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Let us support women as we mark International Women’s Day

By Dr Samantha Opere | March 8th 2021
Dr Samantha Opere (PHOTO: FILE)

As Kenya joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day, gender equality throughout the continent remains a contentious issue that needs to be broadly addressed by the government.

This will go a long way in creating an equal opportunity for women in society.

The 2020 UN theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum”.

Today I have chosen to celebrate young urban women who have stepped out of the norm and ventured into businesses, which involve donkeys.

Life in urban areas moves quite fast. Your survival is based on how quickly you adapt to changes in your surroundings.

Being innovative is a skill that will keep you afloat especially when sources of income are scarce and hard to come by. The people you surround yourself with will also determine your success or failure. While young men may fall into the trap of drug abuse and criminal activities, young women may in addition to these be caught up with sponsors and unwanted pregnancies.

In many urban areas where the cost of transportation by motorised means is still quite high and inaccessible to many, the donkey has become their choice mode of transport. Donkeys pulling carts transport water to homes and business premises, construction materials and help people move homes.

Most parts of Nairobi receive City County water for at least two days a week. Once your tap runs dry, you will have to rely on other sources of water. Ruai town in Nairobi City County is one such urban area where donkeys offer affordable transport solutions.

Caroline Kimanthi supplies water to residents around Acacia in Ruai. She ventured into the water supply business soon after completing her secondary education and while waiting to join college. Her father has owned donkeys for over 20 years and the income he earned from working with donkeys paid for her education.

“When I first started supplying water to residents of Acacia, most tried to discourage me. They told me that a pretty girl like me should be working in Nairobi CBD and not riding a donkey cart delivering water,” Caroline shares.

Caroline says on a good day she earns Sh1,500 from the sale of water. “I don’t have to think about waking up early to sit in traffic to town or getting home late. By noon, I have delivered water to all my customers and I am free to do other things. People will never understand how much I value donkeys because of the positive impact they have had on my life.”

Caroline also stands out from a programmatic point of view because most female donkey owners are mainly found in rural areas working with donkeys that carry goods by the pack. A large proportion of donkey owners in urban areas tend to be young men.

Several kilometres away in Mwea town, Kirinyaga County I met Jane Njeri, a young veterinary paraprofessional. I would describe Jane as a rare gem, passionate and eager to learn. In the Kenyan veterinary field, there are fewer female veterinary professionals in comparison to countries like the US and UK.

In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association stated that of the country’s 99,720 practicing veterinarians, 55 per cent were female. In 2017, more than 80 per cent of the students enrolled in veterinary school were female.

When I graduated from veterinary school at the University of Nairobi, my class only had 15 female students out of 50 students. In general, having fewer female students in animal health courses in Kenya is not uncommon.

After graduation, these female graduates become even scarcer when it comes to field practice. It may be out of choice or based on the available opportunities but many tend to venture into small animal practice (caring for dogs and cats), going into research, teaching or working for NGOs or government. Few will venture into large animal practice (caring for cattle, horses and donkeys).

Jane has been actively caring for donkeys and other livestock in Mwea town, “Seeing animals happy, healthy and pain-free brings me joy.”

She further shares the challenges she faces as a female veterinary professional. “Sometimes a client won’t allow me to treat their animal because they think I won’t be able to restrain it for treatment,” laments Jane. “Other times, some clients don’t pay for the services rendered. Private practice is more like a gamble, work is never guaranteed.”

Her challenges are similar to those of other female veterinary professionals around the world. Studies done by the American and Canadian Veterinary Associations looking at gender and veterinary medicine show that there are still issues of gender parity when it comes to income and opportunities to practice.

Fuelled by her zeal and compassion for animals, Jane joined the Heshimu Punda Mentorship Programme. While on the programme she has garnered skills on appropriate restraint and treatment for donkeys.

The programme further refers to cases of sick donkeys to her for management and to give advice to the owners.
While it is important for us to call out gender biases, we also need to follow the example of Caroline and Jane. Follow your passion. Ignore the negativity of those who do not understand what you are aiming for. Be more aggressive when it comes to negotiating for remuneration for services rendered.

Dr. Samantha Opere, Veterinary Officer/Project Manager ,KENDAT - Heshimu Punda Programme

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