• Unlike most young people who are on social media majorly for entertainment
• Enterprising duo depends on Facebook and WhatsApp to get clients and jobs
Born in a family of four girls, Jane Syokau’s childhood dream was to be a teacher.
But as fate would have it, she has found herself in unfamiliar territory, a field perceived to be a men-only affair. Construction sites.
Dressed in navy blue overall and heavy boots to shield her legs from sharp construction materials at the site, she is among a group of 12 workers at the site.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, but while growing up, I would watch my cousin, who was into electronics, and slowly developed the passion,” she says.
Having finished her Form 4 at Kiuu High School, Machakos, in 2016, she decided to do teaching first at Chaani Primary School, where she had schooled, then Kikeneani Primary, before proceeding to Thika to stay with her sister.
Her sister introduced her to the DREAMS project, a programme that empowers girls aged 10 to 24 years.
The DREAMS, which is an acronym for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe, is an ambitious public-private partnership aimed at reducing rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women in the highest HIV burden countries.
Through the project, Syokau trained in electrical engineering before proceeding to Kenyatta University for three months internship.
Unlike most young people who are on social media mostly for entertainment, Syokau depends on her Facebook and WhatsApp to get clients and jobs.
She recently joined TikTok and hopes to be posting short videos of her work to get more referrals.
“If you market yourself on social media, you can’t fail to get even one job referral per day. If you have your hustle, you can use social media to market yourself because someone gets a good market easily,” she says.
“When I post my work on social media, I get one or two referrals. Sometimes I get jobs on construction sites, sometimes I get them in people’s houses,” she adds.
Women in this sector are few, so they ask me why I am doing this job yet it is a man's job. But I tell them there is no job meant for men only that women can’t doJane Syokau
From the work she does, she is able to pay her rent, feed herself and cater for her personal needs.
Unlike on construction sites, where she earns Sh500 at the end of the day, charges in people’s homes, such as fixing sockets and lights, vary depending on the workload.
“Women in this sector are few, so they ask me why I am doing this job yet it is a man's job. But I tell them there is no job meant for men only that women can’t do,” she says.
The DREAMS project has taught her how to keep safe from diseases such as HIV, but at the same time open up and seek help in case of mental health challenges rather than fighting in silence.
Jane Kamau has walked this journey with Syokau. They were together during the DREAMS programme cohort one training.
Unlike Syokau, Kamau had wanted to be a nurse, a dream she says she will actualise later in life.
Having gotten pregnant while in Form 4, she had to drop out of school to take care of her baby. Now a mother of two, Kamau, too, works on construction sites as an electrician.
However, she markets herself through Ziada and Fuzu apps, but most of her job referrals come from friends.
Sometimes, they help one another get jobs. Whoever between the two gets a job tags the other along.
“I tell them to tag me should they find electrical jobs. With my two kids, I am very satisfied with this job. I go to the site and get my Sh500,” she says.
“I am taking this electrical engineering as my stepping stone to pay for the nursing course later when I want, but for now, I am very satisfied.”
While on the site, they don’t just focus on the job. They also use it as an opportunity to speak to other women they may find on the site, and encourage them to go out of their way to survive without having to engage in other money-generating behaviours that can expose them to HIV.
There are so many challenges women encounter on construction sites, but Syokau and Kamau always choose to soldier on.
Sometimes, they miss out on opportunities when they get to the site for turning down advances from the foremen.
Sometimes, their male counterparts assume they are there just to pass time so they are not assigned any roles for the day.
When they get jobs and report to the site, the owners always question their ability to deliver based on their gender.
“They think you have come to slay on the site, so you have to convince them and do a good job to make them see so that next time, he will give you more jobs or refer you to their friends,” Kamau says.
Apart from pursuing her nursing dream, Kamau plans to open an electrical shop.
She hopes to employ more young girls like her in the sector as it is not a walk in the park getting into the male-dominated sector.
As Syokua and Kamau join the rest of the women in marking International Women’s Day today, their message to young girls is to get out of their comfort zones and embrace available job opportunities without fear. All they need is passion.
“Don’t just sit, try something. I was just trying and today, it has become my passion. Even if I go to the site and don’t get jobs, I tell the foreman to allow me to help because it is something I like.”
This year’s International Women’s Day will be celebrated under the theme ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.
The theme is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.
The UN intends to use the day to call on governments, activists and the private sector alike to power on in their efforts to make the digital world safer, more inclusive and more equitable.
The UN further notes that the digital technology is opening new doors for the global empowerment of women, girls and other marginalised groups.
From gender-responsive digital learning to tech-facilitated sexual and reproductive healthcare, the digital age represents an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate all forms of disparity and inequality, it says.
Irene Makena from World Vision, a technical lead for an adolescent girls and young women DREAMS project, says the project is working in partnership with Ajira, a government initiative to train girls on how to market their products and services online.
This has helped them avoid the challenge of having to go through male gate keepers in the male-dominated sectors, such as construction.
“With the digital technology, they don’t have to pass through these people. You just market your products and services and skills and clients will call you directly,” Makena says.
She challenged girls to get to step out there and discover their talents, realise what they are good at and press the start button.
According to USAid, the DREAMS partnership goes beyond individual health initiatives to address social isolation, poverty, discriminatory cultural norms, orphanhood, gender-based violence and inadequate schooling.
These factors contribute to the girls’ vulnerability to HIV and a life not lived to its full potential.