Feature: Chinese-built railway inspires Kenyan female employees to break glass ceiling

2020-03-10 16:11:35
Summary:NAIROBI, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Winnie Mutua grew up in the eastern Kenyan county of Makueni at a time when the ...
NAIROBI, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Winnie Mutua grew up in the eastern Kenyan county of Makueni at a time when the little girl required sheer grit and fortitude to overcome bottlenecks placed on her journey to self-actualization by a patriarchal society.

The 26-year-old community development major credits her mother, who is a veteran teacher, for encouraging her to defy stereotypes and pursue her dreams with singular focus.

Mutua is among the pioneer group of female employees who joined the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train service upon its launch in May 2017.

She told Xinhua employment by the operator of SGR train service, has provided her a platform to acquire skills, realize career mobility and lend service to the society.

"Giving service to the society has always been my passion and I get emotional satisfaction whenever I serve clients at the SGR besides refining my skills in fleet management," said Mutua.

A close friend alerted her about an opportunity up for grabs at the newly launched SGR train service and her successful application paved way for a three months training to improve her knowledge of modern railway management.

Mutua, who started as a train crew, has risen through the ranks to become a deputy fleet manager, a rare feat for a young female professional to achieve in a male-dominated field.

"It has been a learning process working for the SGR. The skills acquired and career growth have made a huge difference in my life," said Mutua.

She said that her battle with gender stereotypes started during her childhood when an otherwise conservative society where she grew up paid lip service to the girls despite their huge potential.

"Let me admit that it has not been a smooth journey and I lost count of how many times I fought bias and negative remarks thrown at me with an intention of putting me down," said Mutua.

She said that despite progress in realization of gender parity in Kenya, women and girls are still marginalized in education, jobs and crucial leadership positions.

"We are not considered as aggressive or assertive enough but fortunately, many women and girls are breaking the glass ceiling and occupying strategic leadership positions in the workplace," said Mutua.

She said that her transport department at the SGR train service currently has seven female employees in senior management positions, a feat they achieved through hard work and determination.

Mutua belongs to a growing army of Kenyan young women, who have risen above socio-cultural barriers to prove their potential in traditionally male-dominated fields like railway management.

The badminton lover said that the International Women's Day slated for March 8 presents an opportunity to honor the courage, sacrifice and determination of the female gender that has made a difference in their immediate society.

"My message to the younger girls is that they can realize their dreams regardless of barriers that stand in their way. They should keep on pushing hard and believe in their strengths," said Mutua.

She said that her ultimate dream is to occupy executive position at the Africa Star Railway Operation Company Limited that has been operating both the SGR passenger and freight services.

The 480 kilometers Mombasa-Nairobi SGR project, that is a component of China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, has been at the frontline of transforming Kenyan youth through skills transfer and employment.

In addition, the modern railway project has narrowed gender gap through recruitment and training of young female college graduates to boost their participation in an otherwise male-dominated field.

Concilia Owire, a locomotive driver in her mid-20s who joined the SGR train service after its launch, is convinced that it is possible for young women to excel in male-dominated fields if given a chance.

"Being a female locomotive driver is obviously an achievement that can inspire young girls aspiring to join technical fields though it also comes with weighty responsibilities," said Owire.

The electrical engineering major underwent rigorous training locally and in China to prepare her adequately to join the pioneer group of female locomotive drivers in Kenya.

Owire admitted that she too fought age-old stereotypes to prove her potential in the modern railway transport field that is skewed against the female gender.

"Yes, there are many challenges for women and girls aspiring to join engineering-related fields but it depends on an individual's will-power to realize victory," said Owire.

Her duties at the SGR operator have expanded to include handling management tasks and training upcoming Kenyan locomotive drivers.

Owire said that this year's International Women's Day, whose theme is "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women's Rights", offers an opportunity to debunk the myths that have held back the female gender despite immense potential.

"Let us observe the day by reminding young girls that they too have talents and skills that can be utilized to improve our country's economy," said Owire. 

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