Woman Finds Niche In Capentry, Earns 5,000 Weekly

In Kenya, just like in many parts of Africa and the world, there are some careers that are considered a preserve of the male gender, with women being left out purely on pseudo-stereotypes based on societal and cultural perceptions.

This stereotyping has made the female gender lag behind in some professions which are now male-dominated, sparking a narrative that they are a preserve of the male gender.

The narratives are based on socialisation and the physical anatomy of the female gender, which is perceived to be weak and cannot survive in some careers that require a lot of physical energy. But these labels are just that-stereotypes that are meant to keep the other gender down!

In fact, there are careers that society has made to appear more female-oriented than others. Sadly, this labelling is pumped in through cultural-socialisation until it gets embedded in the mind of the female gender.

However, this narrative is slowly changing as more and more women are immersing themselves in the so called, ‘male car
eers or jobs’ such as woodwork or carpentry, an industry that provides employment to hundreds of thousands of people in this country.

Wairimu Wachira, as she prefers to be called, is a 28-year-old carpenter who has defied gender stereotypes in a traditionally male-dominated field.

With an intense focus, she applies white paint to a flower cabinet sitting outside a workshop where she works in Gilgil town, Nakuru County. She just finished making the cabinet, and the customer loved it so much and requested that it be painted white.

But Wairimu`s journey has not been easy, especially in a male-dominated field. Despite numerous hurdles she has faced, she has carved for herself a niche in a male-dominated field, making wall units, furniture, television units, and cabinets that provide her with a steady income.

But having grown up in the Lando slums of Gilgil and seeing all the suffering around her made her have even stronger resolve to succeed.

Wairimu`s journey began not in carpentry but in the pastry and tai
loring industries, which are seen to be more feminine. She worked in these two careers for nearly five years before developing an interest in woodwork.

Describing herself as a go-getter, Wairimu recalls how her initial attempts to find mentorship in carpentry were met with rejection and resistance, often due to her gender.

‘I am now doing what I am passionate about,’ says Wachira. ‘I used to admire wood art and approached many carpenters for mentorship, but I was always turned down, probably because I am a woman.’

Her perseverance eventually paid off when she discovered the KCB Foundation 2jiajiri scholarship programme in 2022. The programme equips unemployed youth with technical skills to grow micro-enterprises. Winning a three-month scholarship to study carpentry at Comboni Polytechnic in Gilgil made her very excited that, at long last, her dreams were coming to pass.

But in class, Wairimu faced further challenges as the only female in a class of 29 males. Her teachers frequently suggested she switch to
a more ‘gender-appropriate’ course like beauty, hairdressing, or tailoring.

‘Woodwork is tough,’ she recalls. ‘During the first days, some lecturers advised me to drop out. Practical sessions were challenging as I didn’t know how to hold a hammer or a plane for shaving wood and often cut my hands with a saw,’ Wairimu says with a chuckle.

She also faced discouragement from a workshop owner who dismissed carpentry as unsuitable for women. Despite these setbacks, her determination remained unshaken.

After completing her scholarship, she volunteered in various workshops in Nakuru and Gilgil for two years to gain experience before starting to earn from her craft.

With the moral support of her mother and two brothers, Wairimu now works at a furniture workshop in Gilgil, where she earns over Sh5,000 per week and is currently working on a contract that earns her more than Sh100,000 weekly. Her colleagues are full of praise for her work, saying she has excellent skills.

Her motivation, she says, is drawn from the
desire to give the best to her customers and earn enough to be able to give herself a good life and from her husband, who has been very supportive of what she is doing. She wishes to rise through her career and be able to encourage other young women to get into so-called male-dominated careers.

However, being a female carpenter comes with unique challenges. She is cautious when visiting male customers’ homes for fittings, aware of potential risks and inappropriate behaviour.

‘As a female, I can’t just go blindly to a male customer’s house for furniture fittings because I don’t know his intentions. Some customers underestimate my skills because I am a woman, even offering to assist me unnecessarily,’ she explains.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Wachira remains focused on her goals. She dreams of owning a large workshop and employing creative, hardworking female carpenters, making items that will be sought after by all, not just in the country but also internationally.

‘If we are importing furniture from Chi
na, what stops us from making our own to compete with it?’ Wairimu quips.

In her free time, she goes hiking, rides bicycles, and helps her mom in a Community Based Organization (CBO) they set up in the Langalanga area of Gilgil to help young single mothers gain skills such as interior design and tailoring, among others.

She advises young women interested in carpentry not to give up, emphasising that with time, they will master the necessary skills that will make them stand out. ‘Stand strong and let your skills speak for you,’ she encourages young women.

Wairimu says her expertise and mastery of her work are what draw customers to her, noting that it took her time to be trusted by clients, and urges young ladies to be patient in whatever they are doing and remain focused.

Source: Kenya News Agency

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