Gender Discrimination in Kenya Careers

I walked from one corner to the other end dropping my CV and attachment letters to different companies in Wilson Airport. I was well received in many companies. Some receptionist asked “What role are you applying an attachment for?” others asked me, “Are applying for Air hostess position?” Well the later made me a little bit angry especially after I was with one guy in a particular company and he was asked “Are you applying for Engineering?” Not that I have nothing against being an Air Hostess, what I had a problem with is the stereotyping by most people that because of my gender then it is obvious I was applying for that position, like that was the only position a lady would have in an aviation firm.

I continued walking then I got to this particular building where a company I wanted to drop my CV was in. At the entrance I found a guard who asked me where I was going and why. I explained that I was going to drop my CV in that particular company. And he said, “ooh, ukuwe air hostess?” which is Swahili and translates to, “You want to be an air hostess?” When I said no he looked confused. But his face was shocked and he seemed to be in disbelief when I answered that I was applying for an attachment under Engineering.

“Why would you do such a hard course” he asked. I simply smiled and asked him why I would not do it. He said it’s because of my gender and such hard courses like Engineering and being a pilot were for men only. I asked him why he thought so, and he said in Kiswahili, “The course is hard. It involves a lot of travelling which a lady cannot do and has to stay home and take care of the family. You could have done a course and be a secretary or someone’s personal assistant” By this time I was in utter shock. I could not believe what he was saying to me. I wondered the most and could not believe that this was someone’s father.

So I told him that I’m okay with my course. And asked him who told him that I wanted to get married?  He answered that an unmarried woman is very useless in the society. When I saw that the conversation would just make me angry than I already was I asked him to let me go and drop my CV. He said no. I asked why. And he explained that the company does not take female engineers and in fact no company in Wilson did. And he stood with his word that it would not go in.

Disappointed and almost in tears, I left. But I felt so bad that I could not allow myself believe that was true. I contacted my friend in KU and explained the incident. She contacted the office of that company. She later called me and gave me the contact so I could call also. The following day I called the company and a lady by the name Grace picked. She was so disappointed and explained that all that was lie. She also said they have a dozen of women engineers which of course I knew.

I called just to ensure they knew that they had a male chauvinist in their company and who would crush the hopes and dreams of many girls who wanted to go to that company. Later I started thinking about this man’s daughter. If at all he had one, that girl’s dream careers were limited to what her father believed are courses meant for ladies.

Every day such cases of gender discrimination happen to many ladies. We never of course hear about these incidents because they are barely told. The truth is that such incidents can really crush someone. Personally, I am a strong lady and I know this very well but that day I was almost crushed. Imagine a younger lady who is soft and does not have much ability to recover from such words.

In as much as we fight for women rights, we forget about the women at work and in different careers who are discriminated simply because they are women. Women who lose opportunities or who are denied opportunities because they are women.

Please let these women pursue what it is they want. Let them make decisions to be who they want. Stop closing and denying them of opportunities because they are women. I have never heard of a man being denied an opportunity because of his gender. Not even once. People believe that a man can be anything he wants but want women to remain in certain limited areas.

Don’t you think that it is ironic that a woman would be told that engineering is a man’s job because it is hard yet our best chefs are men? In case you forgot, a chef’s work is to cook and in Africa cooking is a lady’s job. Modeling was deemed to be a lady’s activity yet when men took up that no one told them to stop. This as well applies to many other things like applying of makeup and all. Someone’s gender should not dictate what job they do.

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Who died and made some people experts in deciding what women and young ladies can do or not do. Who made you expert in gender giving in careers? Let women be. Let girls do physics. I met a girl from a certain high school in Kenya. She was the only girl doing physics in her school which was mixed. I was concerned and asked her why that happened and she explained that most teachers discouraged the girls from picking physics claiming it was hard. My question is, why didn’t anyone stop the boys from picking physics because it was hard?

Please, leave the female species alone. Let us do what we want, whenever we want to do it and however we want to do it. My advice to women is, do not do something because you are a woman rather do it because you want to do it.

By Shiko Wainaina

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