Women break gender stereotypes to secure new sources of incomes

Warehouse roles mean families can put food on the table

When Mwanahamisi lost her husband five years ago, life turned upside down. He had been the household’s sole provider, and a family that was not used to scarcity suddenly lacked food as well as basics such as medicines and cooking fuel. School bills also had to be paid.

With the little savings that her husband left, Mwanahamisi opened a vegetable stall at the Laza market in Hola town in southeastern Kenya, to help provide for her five young children in Laza Makaburini village. The business was challenging though, with many vendors competing for the same client. 

“Since the death of my husband, I have had to work very hard to put food on the table and educate my children,” says Mwanahamisi. “I lacked the capital to expand the business. In the end, the returns could not sustain my family.”

Movement restrictions following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020 proved the final straw, and resulted in Mwanahamisi losing her venture as supply routes were cut off. 

“Without the business we could not afford a meal,” she explains. “We ended up begging for food from our neighbours. I was afraid that my children would starve.”  Desperate and hungry, Mwanahamisi went to the nearby World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse in search of a job. The premises was traditionally a male-dominated environment, but there were signs of change and of women securing different jobs beyond typical cleaning roles as they sought to put food on the table.

Mwanahamisi secured a position, and was pleased to discover she was joining 14 other female workers - out of a total 35 employees - all hired following the COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya.  Each person earns about 3,000 Kenyan shillings (US$28) every week.

At the Hola warehouse, women repackage cereals and pulses, load and offload trucks, and clean. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, WFP has started splitting bags of food into family-size rations at the warehouse ready for distribution. This eliminates the need for scooping and weighing at the distribution centres, which often get crowded, and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus. 

“I never imagined that I could climb on the back of a truck and haul a 50 kg bag by myself,” says Mwanahamisi. “I’m not alone. Other women are doing it and so can I. Personally, this job was the turning point I needed in my life and that of my children. It gave us fresh hope and a promise for tomorrow.”

Mwanahamisi adds that her male colleagues are very supportive. With money from the new job, she has reopened her vegetable stall, selling groceries every evening.

“I enjoy my job at WFP and I am glad to be here, working side-by-side with men and putting equal effort to deliver a quality service,” she says. “Having other women around motivates me a lot. I believe women should be given equal opportunities to participate in all fields.

“I’m very proud to be part of a team contributing to a successful logistics operation that is feeding vulnerable families across my county.”

Hola warehouse is used to pre-position about 3,100 metric tons of assorted food every year for distribution to vulnerable populations in Tana River County.

WFP is supporting a total 35,000 food-insecure people in this County, so they can improve their livelihoods and nutrition status, through projects such as irrigation, beekeeping and village savings and loans associations. The assistance includes in-kind food. WFP also provides nutrition supplements to treat moderate acute malnutrition in 1,800 children under 5, and 820 pregnant and breastfeeding women in the county.