Meet Rabbi Apa, the only woman car mechanic in Dhaka

Started from the bottom but she’s here Rabeya Sultana Rabbi could never attend her S.S.C examination. Growing up with extreme poverty, Rabeya Sultana learned to take care of herself from a very young age. Her father could barely afford for his eight-member family.

The young drop out student is now earning approximately 550 dollars per month and she can comfortably afford for her husband, her young son, and her parents as well. Her husband was very supportive throughout her journey and helped her pursue her career by co-parenting.

Breaking gender stereotypes in a largely male-dominated service sector is rare in our society. But Rabeya Sultana Rabbi, better known as “Mechanic Rabbi Apa” who went against the grain and become that change maker.

33-year-old Rabeya Sultana Rabbi so far is Bangladesh’s first female auto repair mechanic. She is one of the few female mechanics in our city. Her garage is located in the capital’s Panthapath.

Although she is working for the non-government organization CARE Bangladesh as an auto repair mechanic. Initially, she wanted to work in the formal sector to support her family.

Like us, her childhood was not a smooth one as she grew up in extreme poverty. Rabeya couldn’t sit for her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam as she was unable to afford the exam registration fees.

During her childhood, Rabbi’s father, Abdul Aziz Farazy, had a hard time sustaining his eight-member family as a small-scale vegetable seller.

“I was born into poverty,” she described while recounting how as a child, Rabeya would see her mother only buying food after her father returned home with the little amount of money, he had earned by selling vegetables that day.

While working in her workplace, Rabeya talked to us.

“My father’s daily income allowed only one cooked meal per day. We had to sleep with half-filled bellies as my mother needed to save food for the next day,” She said.

“During my childhood, I had to watch my mother starving for days. My father had to go through hardships to make ends meet. It was at that time that I vowed to improve our family’s condition.”

How she became an auto repair mechanic?

When Rabbi heard about two training programs being offered on sewing and driving by CARE Bangladesh, she chose driving. Then she aimed to become self-reliant.

“Initially, I got training as a driver with some other girls. But I was afraid of driving on highways, so I decided to take up my career as a motor mechanic,” she told. “Girls in our country hardly come to this profession.”

People who fondly call her ‘Mechanic Rabbi Apa’ get almost all kinds of auto repair services from her including fixing car brakes, filter change and more.

Since then, she has no looking back. And now she is a full-fledged expert in her arena.

“Keeping my hands in the wheels of a vehicle, I can now say what is wrong with it,” she said with pride.

Rabbi, now the mother of a four-year-old son, has been working as a mechanic for 11 years.

“Now I earn enough money to manage two families,” Rabbi said. She now supports her parents as well as her husband—who is currently unemployed—and her son.

“When I visit my hometown, people criticize me be saying that I am doing a man’s job, to which I respond: Women have the capability and determination to do all kinds of work,” she said.

While sharing her workplace, Rabbi praised CARE Bangladesh saying, “There is no discrimination in my workplace.”

Rabbi lauded the approach, attitude, kindness and consideration of her male colleagues. “It’s extremely challenging work for a woman in a country like Bangladesh, but I overcame all the obstacles and became what I am today. All you need is determination, talent and tolerance,” she said.

CARE Bangladesh Transport Manager, Md Selim Sheikh, told that they currently have about 12 female drivers and 1 female mechanic working for the organization.

Praising Rabbi, Selim said: “She is the only female mechanic here. She is very good at her job and can tell what is wrong with a vehicle just by putting her hand on the engine or wheels.”

“Rabbi is a quick learner and adopted auto mechanical knowledge in a short period of time. We’re proud of her,” he added.

Talking on her success, Prof. Ishrat Shamim, who is also president of the Center for Women and Children’s Studies, said: “Her career is an eye opener. Apart from the success of million women in the ready-made garments sector, a career as a female auto mechanic may open up a new sight of opportunity for struggling women like Rabbi in the future.

Ishrat Shamim said “There should be motor workshops fully run by women to encourage more females to enter the profession and contribute to the country’s economy. Such efforts can ensure better earnings for women and boost socio-economic development.”

When asked about her future plans, Rabbi said she dreams of opening her own garage in her hometown one day, although she does not have a land or any money for it at the moment.

Her son wishes to be an aeronautical engineer in future. She wished one day her son’s dream of his into reality.