In my line of work I am privileged to engage with young adolescents both boys and girls. I either engage them directly through the sexual reproductive education program - WAZI we ran or indirectly by them seeing me work or present or simply visit their schools.
Ari (our sanitary pad dispensers) attract a lot of attention wherever we go. As it is a new innovation in the Kenyan market. Over the years I have gotten jaded over the reaction that it has on our beneficiaries and their support system. Simply because I know how much work is needed to get a machine to production then installation and finally proper usage. But, this view changed recently.
On Tuesday I was in Wangige, a small town on the outskirts of Nairobi. I was finishing up on an installation by myself. A first for me. That cold morning, I geared myself, my brain and my tools to be on site at 11. Our partner organization assisted me with transportation and as we drove there he said what I believe set the foundation for my epiphany. He said, "you have become a fundi (technician)". I jokingly replied, "yes, I have". Out of all the functions I ran in my organization by far I enjoy installation. It is a moment where you can switch off your mind and really get lost in the work.
As I was working I started attracting a crowd. A group of about five or six students, a mix of boys and girls watched on. One of them whispered loudly to their friend " how does she know how to do that?" and their friend replied, "She is an expert!!" Their conversation took me aback. Because I realized this is the first time they have seen a girl do technical work. ( I call myself girl because I have been mistaken for a sixteen year old a few times by the students) Their exposure to women can and are as able as men to hit a nail with a hammer was through me.
I took what I do for granted. In my head I told myself, it is because you are broke or you are saving a coin that's why your are doing all the manual work. I learned how to do it out of necessity because, I realized I was faster learning and implementing then showing someone else how to do it. I have fixed my own machines, I have helped in installation when they were the first bulky version. I have removed a machine from site. Every single time as I worked a man has offered their help. It is strange as I have come to realize to see a girl with a hammer. It is one of those jobs secretly left for men. Some men cruder than others commented how can a small girl be a fundi. Naively, I never thought anything of it. I was, in my mind getting the jobs done.
The conversation the students had made me realize that it is not the norm. It is not the norm for a young lady to walk into a hardware shop and ask for specific fasteners. Especially a girl who does not fit into the stereotypical tomboy. Because, it is seems that is the only way one can be accepted as technician- when you portray characteristics close to that of a man.
I am a fully fledged technician? no. My knowledge is limited to my company's machine. That as I came to learn is enough to inspire an upcoming generation that a girl can be technical and can be hands on. As I spoke to the teachers about the small exchange I overheard between the students they said that what I do (installation as a girl) shows girls not to be afraid of technical work and exposes boys that girls to can do this. It is something so small but, it showcases the unspoken gender roles that we have govern us as a society. It takes something as small as wanting to do it by yourself to break those norms. As I go forth and install in more places across Kenya I am starting to take on a new role. A role that a quiet enjoy. A girl with the hammer.