This story is part of a series called Stars in the Field, produced as part of the Young Women in TVET project. Through this series, we profile women working in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector in Ghana. While not a typical “Farmer story,” we think these profiles can inspire your listeners and start a conversation about traditional and non-traditional jobs for men and women in your community.
Gladys Oduro smiles, beaming in the middle of the more than 30 students who surround her in the workshop at Kumasi Technical Institute in Kumasi, Ghana. She is busy attending to a car engine, demonstrating to her students how the car battery keeps the engine running.
The 42-year-old mother loves teaching, but not the kinds of courses that many female lecturers teach. She says that, although courses like engineering are often regarded as solely for men, she was interested in engineering since childhood.
Mrs. Oduro says, “I wasn’t deterred about male domination because of the fact that I had a personal interest in engineering.”
Mrs. Oduro is a lecturer in automobile engineering at Kumasi Technical Institute, where she has been lecturing part-time since 2009, soon after finishing her first degree. She is also the head of the Automobile Engineering Department at the college.
When she was young, Mrs. Oduro showed her passion for technical skills like engineering to her parents. She recalls, “At home, if I struggled with something, I always worked hard to fix it. I would challenge my parents not to send things to someone to repair them because I always insisted on fixing them myself.”
But her mother didn’t like the idea of her daughter pursuing an engineering course. She discouraged her daughter and insisted that engineering was a difficult and male-dominated program.
Mrs. Oduro says, “She openly told me that I couldn’t do it. I think she was saying this maybe because it involves a lot of mathematics, drawing, logical reasoning, and research. She wanted me to pursue the courses that many females were pursuing.”
She adds, “But my dad was on my side. He encouraged me because he noticed that I had a special talent, capability, and skills which I could develop further if I studied engineering. So, he allowed me to pursue the career which my heart wanted.”
After finishing secondary school, Mrs. Oduro applied for admission to the Kumasi Technical Institute. She was the only woman among the 35 students studying automobile engineering.
She says: “I was ridiculed, mostly by my male counterparts who thought I couldn’t do it. But in my heart, I was convinced that I was going to prove them wrong. I ignored all the negative comments. I went through my education in engineering and I finished with a second class degree.”
After her first degree, Mrs. Oduro and a friend established an automobile service shop. Later, she received a Master’s degree in Automobile Engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. And in 2016, she started teaching at Kumasi Technical Institute.
Mrs. Oduro has faced several challenges in her engineering career, but she was always determined to achieve her goals. One challenge came when she had children. She says that being a mother and studying at the same time wasn’t easy.
Mrs. Oduro says: “Engineering requires a lot of practical work. When I started my Master’s degree, it was very challenging to combine with being a mother because the course is very demanding.”
She adds: “I had to look at my family life, work, and then school. In fact, at some point, because of the stress, I wanted to defer. But my dad encouraged me by saying that I could make it because I was not different from the other ladies that were also pursuing the program.”
The other challenge Mrs. Oduro faced was other people’s negative perceptions. Some women told her that if she pursued an engineering course, she should not marry and have children.
Mrs. Oduro is a positive role model for many girls because of what she has achieved in engineering, a course that many said was only for men. But now, Mrs. Oduro says, the number of women students in her department is increasing.
Apart from challenges, Mrs. Oduro says that there are many benefits for women who choose engineering as their profession.
She explains: “A lot of people ask me to be their ambassadors or do advocacy programs for them. I have been a role model for a lot of people because they see me as a mother to those who want to become like me.”
She adds: “Together with my friends in engineering, we have set up an organization called Female Educational Equity and Support. We go around to schools in the Ashanti region for Ghana to motivate, encourage, and educate female students to take up Technical and Vocational Education and Training such as engineering.”
This resource was produced as part of the Innovation in Non-traditional Vocational Education and Skills Training Project, INVEST, implemented by WUSC with funding from Global Affairs Canada.
Photo: A candid picture of Gladys Oduro. Courtesy of Gladys Oduro.