#WomenSpeak: Ensuring gender equality and equity
My name is Dorcas Wanjiku Gichuki. I am the Branch Secretary and National-level Board Member of the Kenya Building and Construction Employees Union. My journey to trade unionism began in 2014 as a field organiser, where I was responsible for conducting sector-related research, mapping, creating and participating in awareness campaigns, recruitment, organizing, and grievance management. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, travelling, listening to music and watching movies and documentaries.
Kenya’s construction sector is fraught with many challenges, such as job discrimination wherein men are almost always preferred to be employed over women. This can be attributed to the cultural and societal belief that men are more suitable for work in the construction industry. Another issue is the big wage gap between women and men workers, where the former earns less despite doing the same work as the latter.
Gender inequality and inequity are also big challenges in Kenya’s construction industry. Access to rights and/or opportunities is disproportionately skewed towards male workers resulting in the unfair treatment of women workers and their respective needs. This also leads to: 1) gender blindness where employers consciously choose to ignore the differences between their male and female worker, 2) sexual harassment at workplaces against women workers and 3) lack of gender-specific health and safety regulations and/or the proper implementation in workplaces.
To respond to these challenges, the Kenya Building and Construction Employees Union developed a gender policy that aims to eradicate gender blindness and ensure that the principles of gender equality and equity are integrated in all policies and union activities. The union has also made an effort to include women in the collective bargaining processes and has ensured that specific provisions are made for gender issues in the collective bargaining agreements and programs.
The following additional steps are also being taken by the union to address the mentioned challenges:
- Identify all forms of gender discrimination in the employment process and formulate practical strategies to combat this.
- Strengthen and extend programs that promote gender sensitivity.
- Formulate workplace policies that address women’s unique needs and consider their work and private responsibilities.
- Strictly adhere to violence and harassment laws and policies and ensure that the appropriate consequences are implemented.
- Ensure the elimination of stereotyped roles for men and women.
- Provide continuous research, learning, teaching, and campaigning platforms that provide current information to the workers, employers and the Kenyan government.
Now more than ever, trade unions must fight for a gender-equal future where all workers, regardless of gender, enjoy equal pay, treatment and representation, and a healthy and safe working environment. Women are at the center of this struggle, especially amidst a pandemic that continues to take its toll on the working people. Women should be capacitated and skilled to use digital technologies that will help other workers adapt to current and future challenges and crises. Women workers must also become active campaigners for effective, accessible, and affordable health care as well as the total elimination of gender-based violence in workplaces and communities.
I believe that if all major stakeholders (employers, workers and governments) can work together, we can attain decent work standards and the positive growth of the women labour force in the construction industry.
#WomenSpeak is a monthly article on gender issues and concerns authored by BWI’s different affiliate women workers. It seeks to provide women workers more spaces and platforms to express their thoughts and concerns on a variety of issues that are important to them as workers and most especially, as women.