Girls in the Garage

Upending expectations in northern Morocco

Meet the mechanic

Najlae Lachqar has an infectious smile, whether or not she is covered in grease.

The 23-year-old aspiring auto-mechanic lives in the Tanjawa neighborhood of Tetouan, in Morocco’s conservative north, with her mother, father and six of her 11 siblings.

Looking for work

In Tetouan, nestled on Morocco’s northern coast, white washed villages pepper rolling green hills against a backdrop of mountains that roll into the Mediterranean Sea.

But for many families, real hardship lurks beneath the beauty. High unemployment plagues Moroccan youth, and the uncertain job market is leading many young adults to migrate to Europe and elsewhere in search of better opportunities.

Three of Najlae’s brothers are living in Spain due to difficulty finding a job at home.

Women’s Work

“In Morocco — and especially here in the north, in Tetouan, the jobs that women tend to do are hairdressing, cooking, patisserie…,” explains Najlae.

Ever since she was a little girl, Najlae was fascinated by cars and motorbikes. She loved disassembling car parts and putting them back together. Though mechanics has always been her passion, Najlae thought it was a field reserved for boys.

A Shared Passion

She shares the passion with her little sister Rajae, who is just a year younger.

“We are very close,” says Rajae. “And we do almost everything together.”

Start Your Engines

The sisters were studying nursing when they found out about a USAID-supported project providing youth with valuable skills training to help them break into the job market.

After hearing that mechanics was one of the offered programs, they jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in their lives, their dream to become auto mechanics didn’t feel so impossible.

Studying for success

The two-year program consists of classroom study and an internship. Students learn mechanical theory that they then apply to practical training during the week.

Mechanics isn’t quite considered “women’s work” in northern Morocco.

Najlae and Rajae are the only women in their program, but they refuse to back down.

Says Najlae: “I want to work as a mechanic in order to show Moroccan society… that there are girls and women who can work in any field — in mechanics or anything else.”

Roadblocks to prosperity

Najlae and Rajae often experience judgement from their friends and neighbors for choosing to work in a male-dominated field.

They also share common concerns about the lack of job security and financial difficulties.

Says Najlae: “When you go to the companies to look for a job, they tell you: ‘I’ll call you later.’ But they don’t.’”

Sister, Sister

In times of trouble, having a sister helps.

“Sharing the same field with my sister is encouraging,” says Najlae. “We can motivate each other… when she’s unmotivated, I try to boost her morale.”

Najlae and Rajae are more than classmates, coworkers and kin: they’re best friends. “[A sister] compliments and encourages you. It’s very important for me to have a sister,” says Rajae. “She can be your soulmate.”

Princess Auto

Najlae and Rajae have dreams of opening their own workshop one day and calling it “Princess Auto.” They would like it to have an inviting, feminine design and offer services that cater to women drivers.

The sisters’ goal is to make women feel comfortable taking their cars to a shop without having to ask for help from a male relative. They also want to teach women simple fixes, like changing a tire.

“I can’t describe my happiness,” says Najlae. “I’ve achieved something that I thought was impossible.”

About this story

There are nearly 10 million young people in Morocco — nearly 80 percent of that country’s population. Therefore, it is no surprise that Morocco’s unemployment crisis has hit youth the hardest. The fruitless job market has led to migration, increased crime and social marginalization.

In 2012, USAID helped launch the Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement for Today’s Youth, or FORSATY program, implemented by the International Organization for Migration. This program works to reach disaffected youth (ages 12 to 25) living in deprived neighborhoods in the north of Morocco, who are at risk of socioeconomic marginalization. 

By improving opportunities for these youth through a combination of education, employment and community involvement, FORSATY aims to help young people become more productive citizens.

As of February 2016, the program has reached over 10,000 young people living in the north of Morocco with new opportunities. USAID’s support with internship and education programs helps young people like Najlae and Rajae get involved in their communities, boost their confidence and find and secure employment that they can thrive in.