Saadani Bint Abeidna is the first woman to create an automobile repair shop in Nouadhibou, the country’s economic capital, and to thrive in a sector considered exclusively for men.
Saadani is only 31 years old. Married with three children, she holds a motor vehicle maintenance bachelor degree. She fulfilled vocational training placements in several companies to improve her skills and increase her chances of entering the labor market. However, despite her qualifications, her job applications were unsuccessful. But she did not give up and pursued her ambition and desire to be a woman working and earning a living.
Auto repair is hard work and often referred to as men’s work. This is especially true in Mauritania, where the jobs and skills required to perform such work are largely male dominated. Women engaging in physical activity or trying to have occupations predominantly held by men are strongly stigmatized by a society in which these activities deemed masculine are considered inappropriate for women.
Hindrances to female entrepreneurship
Saadani encountered many obstacles. First of all, financially. She made the difficult decision to sell her own assets to finance her project. Then, and mainly, she had to endure social pressure and defend her extraordinary project. Despite these challenges, Saadani decided to move forward, to fight against the social stigma and to push her way through to a new reality where women have the opportunity to engage in income-generating activities often reserved for men.
This new role for women is slowly taking hold and announcing potential changes in Mauritanian society. This will certainly have a substantial impact on the future of the structural composition of the socio-economic fabric in Mauritania. A new reality where women will play their part in promoting the local and national economy and will contribute to the development of Mauritanian society.
The share of female labor in the active population is gradually increasing, from 29.5% in 2010 to 31.5% in 2020. More than 50.8% of women are currently unemployed and not looking for a job. Most working women perform unpaid work or do not generate income. In this sense and according to the Ministry of Employment, Youth and Sports, the employment rate is 27.22% for women while it reached 59.71% for men in 2017.
According to the latest gender indicators in Mauritania (2014), the ratio of women in management positions in the private sector is remarkably low: 4.5%. Equality between men and women in management positions remains a goal far to be achieved.
Innovative and courageous initiatives by Mauritanian women
Given the difficulties faced by women in accessing local labor markets, several innovative entrepreneurial initiatives have emerged, particularly “non-traditional” initiatives launched by Mauritanian women such as Saadani Bint Abeidna.
The UNDP Accelerator Lab in Mauritania is exploring the possibility of duplicating these new initiatives. They could potentially lead to significant change and have positive spinoffs addressing development challenges.
It is from this perspective that the Accelerator Lab is studying this new trend as an indicator of change in Mauritanian society which could help women become important actors towards greater economic and social inclusion. Therefore, the Accelerator Lab team reached out to Saadani to have her experience benefit other groups of vulnerable women so that they could be better equipped. UNDP also works to facilitate their participation in income-generating activities and to overcome social stigma and obstacles to their success.
“I invite all women with project ideas to go for them. Don’t let obstacles stop you from making your dreams come true. It’s time for you to be financially independent and become managers of your own businesses,” says Saadani.
“I urge you to get the education and training you need to upgrade your skills and know-how so that you have a better chance of achieving your goals. Don’t become dependent on others,” she continues.
Need to support these initiatives
Exploring this new direction in the dynamics of entrepreneurship is of great importance for the Accelerator Lab and other programs implemented by UNDP in Mauritania as it aligns closely with the sustainable development goals (particularly SDG 5 and SDG 8). Several collaborations could be envisaged so that women find a place in economic activities often considered exclusively for men.