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Women doing the uncommon: Amazing world of Female barbers, bus drivers, others

Culled from Saturday Punch - Nigeria

In a very competitive environment where opportunities are few, some women are taking the bull by the horn, carving a niche for themselves in male-dominated vocations writes Eric Dumo

There are many things that make her thick. Apart from standing at a staggering 6feet and having a plum built, Gladys Famous is a giant in many ways. Venturing into a vocation largely the preserve of men, the Edo State-born young woman has been able to make a name for herself in her Ijede, Ikorodu neighborhood by dishing out amazing hair cuts to dozens of customers. The first female barber in the entire community, Famous enjoys a large following. In 2012, she emerged among the best 10 barbers in the whole of Lagos at the annual State competition organized by a popular clipper manufacturer. Today, having toiled so hard to own a well-equipped salon, she is giving male colleagues in the business a run for their game.

"I have been in this job for about four years and I'm enjoying every bit of it,"  she said, "I never really planned to be a barber but after looking for a job without success, I decided to make a meaning out of my life.
"There was a day I had a dream where I saw a woman on knickers cutting a man's hair. Even though I was amazed by that dream, I didn't think it could be telling me something because my plans were completely different from what I am doing today.

"Along the line, a friend who was searching for a job for me asked me one day what other thing I would love to do apart from working in an office and the only thing I told him was that I wanted to be a barber. He asked if I was serious about it and I said yes. So he took me to a guy named Shina to train me and later paid the registration fee of N20, 000 for me. The man didn't even believe that I would take the training serious. Many times he would drive by just to see if I was there and to his surprise, he would find me there. That was how I started this journey."
Female LAWMA truck driver at work
But it wasn't a smooth sail for Famous climbing the ladder of success. There were several obstacles along the way - some enough to extinguish her fire. Apart from the envy and criticisms from male colleagues she came up against, sexual harassment from naughty customers was another challenge that almost forced her out of the profession. Only the resolve to succeed in this male-dominated path, she explained, kept her going.
"My boss who trained me on this job really treated me well because I was attracting customers to his salon. As a result of my presence in that salon, people trooped in droves even though many of them never really required a haircut. They just wanted to see me at work because it was a bit strange to them that a female could be barbing. For this reason, my boss liked and pampered me.

"But I never knew my male colleagues in that same place were not happy with this. Some of them started showing their envy to my face and would even grumble before our boss. Even though I met some of them at the place, I graduated before them through the help of God and hard work.

"There was also the issue of customers who came with doubts in their minds, wondering if I could give them the type of service they wanted. But by the time I finished with their haircut, they would be so impressed and even paid me more than what they were supposed to pay. Some of them would tell my boss that it was only me they wanted to be attending to their hairs whenever they came around.
"Even now that I operate my own salon, male barbers still envy me. Some would even send spies to find out my prices and see how many customers I had at a particular time. There are so many others that I really cannot mention. It has been a situation of envy all through but God has always stood by me.

"There is also the challenge of customers who just want your body and the service you render. I remember the last place I worked before setting up my salon; a customer had been disturbing me for about three years, asking me all the time to have an affair with him. Whenever I was cutting his hair, he would look through the mirror and tell me in Yoruba language that he had given me the signs through the eyes, body language and even said it verbally but that I wasn't cooperating. When I established my salon, I called him to patronize me but it took him about three months to finally visit my shop. So, harassment is common but you decide if you want to have affairs with the customers or not."

Getting the support of family while making bold decisions as this could be quite tough. For this light-complexioned lady, her decision to tow the path of barbing was greeted with different reactions among family members.
"My mother, after being skeptical for a while, finally gave me the support I needed but my father was just too afraid and he didn't approve of my being a barber. Even my fiancé back then wasn't too comfortable with that decision. But I am very happy with how far I have come today. In fact whenever I look back, I just wish I had been into this job earlier because I know I would have gone very far by now," she said.

 Inspired by Famous' success, a handful of ladies in this Ikorodu community are now also building careers in this male-dominated vocation. Olaife Waheed, 26, is one of those following in Famous's footstep. Working in one of the biggest salons in Ijede, the diminutive young woman is fast becoming a known face in the area, too. Even though, she admits that the job is very lucrative, the constant harassment from customers and hostile reception from male colleagues who view female barbers like her as usurpers, make things a bit difficult.
"I learnt hairdressing and cosmetology at the Lagos State Vocational School in Ikorodu. Even though we were taught barbing in school, I didn't show much interest in it then. But during my industrial attachment, I came across Famous and that really inspired me to want to try my hands on the job as well.
"My mother initially discouraged me because of my height. She wasn't too sure I could meet the demands of the job especially when I have tall customers to deal with. She wondered how I was going to do the job. But I wasn't discouraged," she said.

Asked how she managed to attend to customers who were a bit taller, Waheed burst out in laughter before sharing her secret with our correspondent. "It depends on the chair the customer is sitting on," she said. "If it is adjustable, I would simply adjust it and bring it down to my level even though some customers don't like this. But if not, I may have to wear high heels to help me come up a bit."
Like other females in this profession, getting passes from male customers is no longer a new thing for Waheed. She said that she had found a way around it over the years.

"Harassment is almost a regular occurrence on this job. Some customers even tell you that they feel like kissing you while you are treating their hair. Others want to touch and fondle your body as you are attending to them. They do all sorts of things just to have their ways but as a female barber you just have to be strong and smart not to mess yourself up with customers. It has not been easy because the moment customers pick interest in you, the other barbers get jealous and sometimes take you as enemy," she said.
But while the 26-year-old is quick to spare a smile today the moment you walk into the salon she works, she told Saturday PUNCH, she has had to pay a big price in the past because of her love for the job.
"I lost my previous relationship because the guy couldn't just cope with the fact that I was attending to so many men everyday in the course of doing this job. He started suspecting me unnecessarily and eventually we had to go our separate ways.

"But my boyfriend now supports what I do and he has been very encouraging. He understands the nature of the job and so has no problem with me," she said.
Ibukun Adekoya is yet another young woman defying odds and challenging tradition to earn a decent living. Also eking out daily survival as a barber; she shared some of her experiences on the job with our correspondent a few days ago. She said a frustrating search for admission into higher institution pushed her into the vocation and that she is enjoying every bit of it now. Today, finally studying at the Lagos State Polytechnic, Adekoya combines academics with barbing.
"After searching for admission tirelessly, I decided I wasn't going to allow my life waste away. Luckily, I met a friend whose boyfriend thought how to cut hair. Before long, the lady became very good on the job and was MAKING GOOD MONEY for herself. That really inspired and pushed me to learn this job and I am happy I did because it has really changed my life.
"That admission I was chasing up and down came to me almost effortlessly and today I am combining studies with this job. It has been a very fruitful experience for me and I just wish I had thought of this before now," she said.
As part of strategies to win over loyalists in the face of constant competition, Adekoya offers new customers quality refreshment regardless of the type of service sought or amount paid. In many cases, this practice has earned her showers of gifts in return from appreciative clients.
"I get lots of tips from customers for being nice to them and treating their hairs well. There was a customer I had who always went out of his way to shower me with gifts. On a particular day he went out of the salon after I had attended to him to buy tubers of yam and brought them to me as gift. I was shocked. I accepted the yams but gave them to my boss. Some buy me other items and even splash me with cash gifts because they appreciate what I do," she said.
Outside barbing and Ikorodu, scores of women across many Nigerian cities are also making names for themselves, delving into jobs traditionally undertaken by men. In other parts of the Lagos metropolis for example, Saturday PUNCH encountered a handful of these women who are displaying exceptional bravery and extraordinary courage in extremely competitive male-dominated trades.
In Ketu, a busy part of the metropolis, Felicia Okere, squares it up with men in the tricycle business popularly known as Keke Marwa or NAPEP. Plying the Shangisha to Ikosi route for the past one year now, Okere has fully settled into the job, making cool cash and new friends every day. She told our correspondent that she was designed for the job.
"At first, it was tough for me because of the stress and how the men want to frustrate you. But the moment I found my confidence and passengers started praising my courage to do this job, I knew I had to fully concentrate on this.
"It has been over one year now and I can tell you that the money I have made and the friends I have may not have come if I were doing something else. A lot of passengers would always tell me to keep the change as a way of showing appreciation for my courage to do this job. Their kind words really strengthen and encourage me. I am glad I came into the business because it has transformed my life in many ways," she said.

Olasumbo Josephine Odole is making her own mark working as an auto mechanic in another part of the metropolis. A graduate of Pure and Applied Psychology from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba -Akoko in Ondo State, she says she is in the job because of the passion she has for it.
"I am in this job because it is something that I have always loved to do. I take it as my own ministry of helping people having problems with their cars because I hate it when vehicles disappoint on the road. When I graduated from the university, the passion and zeal for the job was still in me, so I decided to go into it. A lot of people are quick to suggest that this job is for lay-abouts but that's not true and at least people like us have been able to prove this.
"I bless God for each day and I always put up a happy face while doing my job. I am never intimidated by male colleagues because apart from the fact that this job fetches me money, it is something I love doing," she said.
These days, it is not uncommon to find a dark-complexioned woman behind the wheels of a commercial bus plying the Yaba-Mile 12 route. Simply known as 'Iya' among scores of her male colleagues, Bolaji Adedotun, is another huge testimony of "what a man can do, a woman can do better." Navigating her way through neck-breaking traffic snarls that litter many of Lagos's ever busy roads, 'Iya' is yet another woman proving that gender is merely a social definition of the sexes and not a parameter or limitation to success.
"I took up this challenge after my husband lost his job. We have children to feed and bills to pay. Sitting without doing anything to support my husband would not do us any good so I decided to try this out and thank God it has turned out well for me.
"People who like what I do always appreciate me in every form, with some giving me cash and other items just to encourage me. The money I take home at the close of each day is something I know I cannot smell if I am into business. The job is not an easy one but I have done it for more than one year now and so cannot complain anymore. It is something I have come to love doing even with the harassment from touts and stubborn passengers," she said.
At the expansive Olusosun dump, Ojota, women of different ages were seen driving refuse trucks owned by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority. Even though, many of them refused to speak and share their experiences with our correspondent without authorisation from their employer, one of them said if they were not enjoying the job they would have quit before now.
"We all like what we do and people respect us whenever we visit their areas to collect refuse. A lot of times children just stare at us and run after our trucks because to them, it's a bit of a surprise to see a woman doing this. But for us, we love the job and we will continue to do it," she said off record in a friendly chat with our correspondent.

Women like Famous, Okere and Adedotun even though in short supply, are not limited to Lagos alone - they are now a constant feature in other parts of the country. In Ise-Ekiti, Ekiti State for example, female cobblers are gradually showing the men how to ROLL THE DICE. On a recent visit to the area, our correspondent observed at least three of such young women at different locations within the town doing their thing.
In Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, women now operate private taxis and also drive commercial buses. In riverine communities like Buguma, Abonnema and Opobo, women run boat services and even engage in large scale commercial fishing. In Eastern and Northern cities, women are also competing strongly with men across various vocations. And with job opportunities getting slimmer by the day in the face of growing demand amidst spiraling labour force, more women could yet break barriers and put food on their tables by venturing into areas traditionally threaded by men.

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