Orphaned at an early age, Evelyn Atieno had to endure hardship while growing without motherly love. A single mother of two, she has kept on defying odds to ensure survival. With little education and the need to provide for her children, Atieno decided to join the tedious construction industry rather than seek other easy ways of earning a living.
The 28 year old standard eight drop out who hails from Gem Sub County in Siaya but a resident of Siaya town doesn’t hesitate to carry heavy bricks and a mix mortar just like her male colleagues.
“I started working at a hotel where I earned Sh100 a day and even ventured into my own business of selling chips which collapsed soon after,” she says adding, “I then joined construction work which I find more reliable and well paying.”
Atieno finds the construction work more efficient as she pockets Sh1000 daily, money that enables her to provide for her two school going children and pay rent.
After separating with her husband, Atieno had to shoulder the responsibility of upbringing her children solely and presently works in a construction site at Mwisho Mwisho hotel in Siaya town, a place full of young women working as waitresses. Surprisingly she seems unbothered taking on a job reserved for men and do so with vibrant determination.
“Those who know me from childhood understand that I have always loved manual labor and right now I do not feel out of place here,” recalls Atieno.
Her journey into the construction industry, she says began three years ago as a casual labourer then earning Sh. 500 per day. “I grew to love the job and through dedication, other senior masons offered me on job training which enabled me to become a mason,” she explains adding it was however not a bed of roses as she had to switch from a laborer to training to be a mason.
“I had to finish chores assigned to me in a construction site, such as sweeping and concrete curing before I could be allowed to learn a thing or two from the experienced masons,’’ she noted.
It is believed that women are not meant to work in laborious jobs like construction sector but Atieno believes in the contrary stressing.
“If I get enough capital to start a business, I would rather employ an assistant while I continues with masonry job. This job is not for the faint hearted. For example, we started out as 12 ladies at the beginning of this project but today only three of us are left. This job really needs determination and dedication,” she further explains.
Zachary Otieno Awiti who has worked in construction industry for over 19 years seems intrigued by the passion and determination Atieno puts in her work. He says that including women in construction jobs is not only a way to empower women but also an effective way to ensure gender inclusivity
He stresses that construction jobs owners have ensured that both male and female workers are paid equally with no favor in allocation of duties.
“Before there were light duties specially assigned to ladies such as concrete curing and sweeping floors but now exemplary work done by ladies such as Atieno is proof enough for ladies to take on heavier duties like mixing mortar and carrying heavy bricks,” reiterates Awiti.
Atieno terms as misconception the notion that men harass and bully daughters of Eve at workplace stressing she has never suffered any form of intimidation on the basis of her gender. “Sometimes people think women get the job through sexual favors but we get hired because we are just as competent and hard working as men,” she states.
Joseph Musumba, the executive director of Mwisho Mwisho tourist hotel, who has an ongoing construction project where Atieno is currently working, supported her sentiments saying he is always intrigued by the relentlessness of women and had never regretted involving women in his investment projects.
He says he encourages his contractors to include hire more women to ensure gender inclusivity and women empowerment in the construction industry.
Atieno who is hoping to get more involved in masonry highlights that it is a challenge being a single mother and doing the kind of job she does as she can never travel to distant towns like the rest of the men and leave her young children. She adds that she has faced ridicule for joining the male dominated field and even her friends have advised her to quit and start a business.
The support she gets from her family and relatives, she says, keeps her going as they understand and accept the challenges that come with her line of work. “I like my job because when I am out of my work clothes I look as smart as the rest of the ladies with other jobs and most importantly it really feels good to walk home in the evening with money in my pockets,” she says smiling proudly.
Atieno advises fellow women who are stuck to female dominated jobs which may be under paying to try out other opportunities associated with men that have better incomes even though they are dusty like construction work.
by Ochieng Kanyadejeh, Byron Ouma and Elizabeth Akama