By Dana Halawi
Beirut—Perla Shalhoub, a 22-year-old Lebanese woman, welcomes tens of customers daily in her car repair garage in Sarba, a village near the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon.
Perla said that her passion for engines, in addition to the country’s economic crisis and high unemployment rate, has led her to pursue a profession that is unconventional for most Lebanese women.
“When I started working in the garage, I felt a bit embarrassed. I was worried that customers might not trust my skills, because I could notice the surprise and caution on their faces,” said Perla while changing the brakes on a car. But as time passed, she gradually earned the trust of car owners with her expertise.
Perla’s father founded the garage 25 years ago. She said she had always enjoyed watching her father work on cars and had discovered at an early age that she had a knack for the machinery, just like her father.
At the age of 22, Perla has already worked as a full-time mechanic for four years. She said she didn’t believe that women face any insurmountable disadvantages in this trade as the key to fixing a car is to diagnose the malfunction, which requires experience and up-to-date knowledge instead of mere physical strength.
To become better at her job, Perla got herself enrolled in a mechanical engineering program at the Lebanese International University.
Modern automobiles are equipped with more and more advanced electronic devices, said the young lady, adding that mechanics need to keep up with the latest trends in the field.
“Training courses are essential in light of the rapid and complex updates that international car manufacturers introduce to their new and advanced productions,” she said.
Another factor that contributes to her success on the job is her honesty. Perla stated that she has always tried to repair cars at the lowest possible cost and has never attempted to make more money by deceiving her customers and manipulating them into agreeing to more expensive options.
“It bothers me to see widespread fraud in this profession as some garages take advantage of car owners and force them to buy new spare parts at times of financial difficulties,” she said.
The female mechanic also noted that more women visit her car workshop as they feel reassured when dealing with her.
“I feel women are reassured when coming to my garage because they see the great respect I show them and the responsibility with which I work with cars,” Perla said.
While working as a female mechanic isn’t easy as the profession is overwhelmingly male-dominated, Perla believes the car repair business could be an excellent opportunity for unemployed young women seeking work amid the current crisis.
“I hope my success can motivate more girls to choose ‘unconventional’ professions,” she said, smiling proudly in her blue work uniform that has been stained with oil and grease.
While women in Lebanon comprised 52.6 percent of the working-age population, less than 30 percent have been actively engaged in the labor market, according to a study released by the United Nations Development Programme in 2021.
The study added that gender stereotyping still influences women’s choices regarding their professions, as nine out of 10 women are employed in the services sector, while women’s work in manufacturing and agriculture is still minimal.
Lebanon has been suffering from the worst financial crisis in its history, leading to the collapse of the local currency and a rise in the unemployment rate to exceed 82 percent.