Lilongwe — As gender activists keep urging women to break free from the confinements of gender inferiority and 'think outside the box', 27-year-old, Sphiwe Mahangula, is destroying the box altogether.
A resident of Lilongwe's Chinsapo location, the young woman is a sole female brick-layer among over 50 men who are employees of Built Environs -the contractor working on the extension of the Lilongwe Old Town Standard Bank.
But seeing her at work, clad in red work-suit, gumboots and a helmet, Mahangula would easily pass for a man.
"Sphiwe is one of our best brick layers, experienced and hardworking," explained Built Environs Contracts Manager, Martin Chimimba, when this writer visited the site. "She works with the confidence and dexterity that leaves onlookers spellbound.
"Besides," continued Chimimba, "Sphiwe works with little supervision and she strives for excellence in every job assigned her."
As her male counterparts admit with clear honesty that Mahangula is a brick layer with some clout, she accepts the compliments with the humbleness of a woman who views men and women on equal footing.
"It is quite interesting - but not challenging - to work in an environment where you are the only female character," explained Mahangula who holds a Grade 1 Trade Test Certificate in Brick Laying, and a TEVET Advanced Certificate in the same.
"I find it even more interesting and encouraging when the men I work with openly commend my work. This simply vindicates my long term concept that every task is doable to everyone, whether one is a man or a woman."
Mahangula, who hails from Magombe Village, Traditional Authority Chikowi, Zomba, said her first dream job was to be a police officer. But when the wish failed to pay off, she went for Brick Laying at Nasawa Technical College through the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (TEVET).
Third-born in a family of 7 girls and 4 boys, she went to Sangazi Primary School, Sangazi Community Secondary School and Sangazi Private Secondary School in Monkey-bay for her primary and secondary education respectively, before enrolling with TEVET from 2006 - 2010.
In 2011, fresh from college and full of enthusiasm to exude her skills, Mahangula joined Delta Construction on attachment where she gained experience and more inspiration.
"At Delta Construction I was inspired by one female engineer whom I only knew as Suzan," explained Mahangula, toying with a trowel, and added: "She used to come at the sites where we were working to inspect progress of work and give technical advice where necessary.
"She was my model, and I was always fascinated seeing her telling men what to do and the respect the latter accorded her."
The mother of one said although brick-laying has some risks, she finds it very enjoyable because it keeps her always physically fit as it involves a lot of physical movement.
Mahangula is not yet at the peak of her career. Her dream is to go up the ladder and become a site agent. But that's not all she dreams about.
"I would like to upgrade my qualifications, gain more expertise and establish my own construction company one day," she explains with a dreamy expression in her eyes.
The female artisan sees brick-laying as a viable and marketable career that women should venture into, a view which Built Environs Construction Company also share.
"We open doors to women who meet the qualifications we look for because as a construction company we believe in equal employment opportunity between men and women. We wish there could be more Mahangulas," explains the company's Contracts Manager, Chimimba.
Interesting as Sphiwe's story might be, one would be more fascinated after hearing the brick layer's family history which proves it to be in the Mahangula girls' blood to tread into "Men's Only" territories.
Sphiwe is a girl from a set of triplets - all girls - and her two triplet sisters are equally in the "wrong" fields: one a mechanic and the other a panel beater.