The belief that women are underrepresented in phones repairs in Nigeria, particularly in the North, is now changing as more women are breaking ground in the men-dominated business in Borno State.
A 23-year-old Falmata Usman is a female phone repairer who took the men-dominated job for herself and other women around her in Mafa town, one of the local government areas devastated by Boko Haram insurgency in the state.
Falmata, a diploma in Business Administration holder and still single, said she received a lot of backlash and resistance from her community when she decided to enroll in the phone repair training.
“We were in the internally displaced persons camp when the Plan International, a non-governmental organisation, came to train women on phone repairs. In the camp, we do receive all kinds of support but we only accommodate those that suit our culture and religion.
“Many of us received the training and got tools. I kept my own when others were selling theirs.
“Trouble started when I decided to start mobile phone repairs. Everyone was against the idea, saying it was indecent for women, but I stood my ground to confront the gender norms. I even inspired other women to join me. It was actually an uphill task, but Alhamdullilah, it has been a good journey so far,” she said.
Our correspondent who visited Mafa town observed how Falmata mastered the skill of phone repair, co-opting more women and making it a female gender-dominated job that helps them raise money to support their loved ones.
Falmata said she decided to establish the business in her hometown so as to train other women and save residents the cost of traveling to Maiduguri, as well as improve the economic situation in the area.
“I inspired other women to learn the skill because it will be easy for them to do from their matrimonial homes. And it will help them to support their husbands, parents and loved ones. The economic situation in our villages is very harsh,” she said.
In a northern traditional setting, a woman has to balance home chores and a chosen business; hence Falmata starts her day with cooking food and cleaning her parents’ house before opening her shop.
“I am still single but I make sure that I clean my parents’ house and cook before I start the business. So, I advise women in this business, especially the married ones, to clean their homes and cook for their husbands so as to save their marriages,” she added.
Today, Falmata Usman earns an average N30,000 everyday from phone repairs and accessories. “I spend part of the N30,000 on myself, my parents and the apprentices and reinvest the rest into the shop,” she said.
Her first job
Narrating how she fixed the first phone, Falmata said, “After some months, I started feeling guilty that a huge money was invested to help me but I did not make any effort to practise, so I dismantled a small Tecno phone I had and re-coupled it. I then started collecting faulty phones from friends and relatives to repair at no cost until I become an expert.
“Already, I was trained on how to run a business and track income, expenses and profit, so I leveraged that.
“I faced a lot of mockery from people when I started the phone repair business, but now, some of them are bringing their daughters and sisters to be trained by me.
“So far, I have 10 women apprentices and more keep coming, but I don’t have the capacity.”
Asked if she was planning to extend the training to young men struggling to find sources of livelihood, she said, “Not now, women are the most affected in this crisis because they are left with children and even husbands to care for. But we will have space for them later.”
Falmata advised local government chairmen in the state to tailor their thinking towards empowering women on phone repairing programmes.
“This is because there are phones in every home, irrespective of their statuses. And if women are trained in hard-to-reach areas, they would be empowered to support their families. You would see phones with small faults being taken to Maiduguri for repair, and so on.
“Lastly, I call on Governor Babagana Zulum to see how he can assist us in this business so as to cope with the current economic situation in the land.
“A lot of women who suffered displacement can do it and also help their parents, husbands, children and siblings,” she further said.
A phone seller in Mafa, Abdullahi Muhammed, said Falmata had mastered the skill of phone repairing.
“This phone I am holding could not even restart, but they repaired it for me; and since then, it has not given me any problem. And there are uncountable phones they have repaired. They are trying their best,” he said.
Asked if he still takes his phones to Maiduguri for repairs, he said, “Unless we are sure they can’t repair them, but I want to assure you that most things that I sell are being repaired here,” Muhammad added.
One of her apprentices, Aisha Mustapha, 17, said they were approached, together with Falmata to enroll in the phone repairing training but she refused, “but now, I am learning from her.
“All the women concluded that it was a man’s job and we could not do it. But Falmata insisted that she would give it a try because women could do lots of things.
“Later on, she proved herself and we realised that she could do it. She learned it easily. She encouraged us by doing it the proper way, and that’s how we also feel we want to do it. You can see us learning how to do it,” she said.