Lady defies odds to eke out a living in men-dorminated field

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024 11:00 | By
Agnes Musimbi painting a bed at her workshop at the outskirts of Kericho Town. PHOTO/Print

Walking towards the Kiprugut Chumo Stadium on the outskirts of Kericho Town, creative Jua Kali artisans busy at work display their beautifully crafted masterpieces along the road, leaving passers-by in awe, some just admiring from afar while others take time to inquire about the furniture.

The vibrant Jua Kali industry in Kericho that covers the informal manufacturers who operate informally under makeshift workshops is primarily an occupation that is male-dominated, with few women being spotted in assistive roles.

Agnes Musimbi, a strong, confident lady, is one of the few women in the Jua Kali informal sector within the town eking out a living in the woodworking industry as a creative artisan who crafts elegant house furniture that attracts the target market within the surrounding estates such as Nyagacho, E-Land, and Majengo.

Musimbi explained at length the complex design and production processes of Jua Kali furniture, which more often than not discourages a majority of women from joining the industry.

“Furniture production is a complex process involving a variety of different materials, tools, and techniques. From cutting, sanding, and assembly, to finishing and packaging, there are several steps involved in creating quality furniture,” Musimbi said.

Musimbi is courageously making strides in the aggressive woodworking industry, a vital sector that contributes to the country’s economic development and social welfare through the processing of wood and wood products into various forms of furniture, construction materials, handicrafts, and other items.

The 45-year-old lady, who specialises in carpentry and joinery, has for the last ten years created furnishings such as seats, chairs, sofa sets, dining tables, stools, office desks, and beds. She disclosed that she has been able to comfortably fend for herself and her family through the carpentry business.

Domestic work

“Before I started carpentry, I tried many other jobs that were not successful, such as farming, and domestic work, among others,” Musimbi said.

The mother of four, who disclosed that she makes at least Sh5,000 on a good day, said it’s the lack of a job that pushed her to this male-dominated furniture business, where she started as an assistant for several months during which she quickly learned her ropes and then later established her workshop.

“Over the years, I have gradually improved my craft, and I love my carpentry job as it enables me to activate my creative mind by designing different forms of furniture depending on the customers’ preferences, and this is a good source of income,” added Musimbi.

However, she intimated that the furniture business also had its fair share of challenges, which she grappled with, including gender discrimination that is rampant within the Jua Kali sector, with some customers preferring her male counterparts in designing with the belief that women cannot create good house fittings.

She is currently training two other ladies whom she hopes will also be successful in the furniture business soon, even as she looks forward to expanding her workshop to create space for more appliances, which will eventually earn her more money.

Venture into industry

Meanwhile, the County Enterprise Development Officer, Michelle Aburili, said women fear Jua Kali machinery but assured that through sensitisation, which her office was actively conducting, more women are now coming out to venture into the industry.

“We are trying our level best to create awareness and also spearhead capacity building among women through the promotion of technical courses women can undertake to grow the skill set needed for various jobs in the Jua Kali sector,” noted Aburili.

She further said the “Form ni Mjengo” programme had gained momentum through the Nairobi Institute of Technology, which provides fully paid scholarships to women to gain the technical practical skills necessary for the Jua Kali sector.

“The number of women in the Jua Kali Sector in Kericho County, as per our data in the database, is 40 in total, and we expect the number to gradually continue to rise as we continue to sensitise more women to join the Jua Kali industry.” Divulged Aburuli.


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