Breaking gender stereotypes

Breaking gender stereotypes

MASERU -AFTER taking on what is generally considered a men’s job, the people who trust Tholang Tampoki least are some of her own gender.
Breaking gender stereotypes, Tholang Tampoki from Khubetsoana, Berea has taken to panel beating for a living and has opened her own workshop.
The 32-year-old is ecstatic about her journey, but also is baffled by the lack of support she is getting from women.
She says most of her clients are men who have been supporting her ever since she started while most of women were not showing support to her.
Tampoki says she realised that most women do not trust her while some feel the pressure that she does what they believe they cannot do.
This is despite the fact that she has been doing this kind of work for the past 10 years. At 22, she graduated from Lerotholi Polytechnic after studying Fitting – a course she enrolled in only because her male friends were doing the same programme.

“I was so proud of myself and I believed there is nothing which could be done by men that I could not do,” she says.
Tampoki says she grew up playing with boys “who were also my best friends”. At college, she became a kind of enigma to some students.
“There is one girl who was studying at the college who approached me (and told me) that I have been her role model,” she says.
After college, Tampoki got part-time welding jobs and this broadened her experience in the industry.
Some, especially close ones such as her father, although supportive were amazed at her strength.
“My father supported me financially and he believed in me,” says the short and skinny panel beater who didn’t mind walking around in dirty overalls in her 20s as other college graduates strolled in high heels.

Although her mother was also a pillar of strength, she was scared that Tampoki would struggle to make it in such a male-dominated industry.
“My father used to say he has been blessed with a boy,” she recalls, adding that her father would always brag that her girl had potential.
Tampoki says what has also kept her going is the support of her siblings who fervently believe in her.
“When I am doing my work, my elder sibling glances at me and marvels,” she says.
“She always says she could not be able to do what I am doing,” she says.

Some of Tampoki’s specialties are manufacturing door burglar proofs and gates and fixing cars.
She says in most cases, ex-Japanese cars sold in Lesotho come with “their lower parts rotten”.
“I take out the lower part and build new ones,” she says, standing inside her workshop where working tools are packed neatly in a metal toolbox. Some metals are packed against the wall.
She recalls days when business was thriving and she could rake in about M20 000 monthly.
At the moment, Tampoki is working alone in her workshop although she employs temporary staff when there is more work.
She also offers internships to Lerotholi Polytechnic students.
Business has become tough in the last year due to rising competition, she says.
“There are more panel beating businesses located in this area.”

Tampoki says most of the panel beaters, who are neither well-qualified nor experienced, are setting “very low prices” to lure gullible customers.
She says the sluggish growth of Lesotho’s economy is also playing a part in hampering business growth.
Tampoki says despite her boldness, it is challenging to work in this kind of businesses because people normally pay in installments. Some try to take advantage of her gender to avoid paying.
“Some clients underestimate women because they think that we do not have power to fight them if they do not pay,” says Tampoki, adding that she has written off debts of more than M20 000.
She recalls the last time she reported a client to the police. She got the shock of her life when the policeman handling the case could not believe that she could do the work she was billing for.
Tampoki says the police officer thought she was “just robbing the people”.
The police officer insisted on going to the client’s home to see if “I really did the job”.
Even today, the case has not yet been resolved, Tampoki says.

“That was the last time I reported a customer to the police and I will never go there again,” she says, seemingly hurt by the incident.
Despite the challenges, Tampoki says she is proud that she managed to pay school fees for her siblings who are now in tertiary education institutions while her younger sister is now a professional teacher.
All this from a profession that to her seems like a dream come true.
“I am actually living my dream,” she says, smiling.
“This is what I was born for. I feel so happy,” she says, her face glowing.

Refiloe Mpobole

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