By Emily Kirigha, Project Manager, and Beatrice Masaba, People & Support Officer, Kenya
Every single project and activity WSUP has been involved with in Africa and Asia relies on the direct participation and deep involvement of women. From the hard work done by female residents in their communities to their role as mothers and sisters looking after little children, women are central to all our work promoting clean water and safely managed sanitation in vulnerable communities.
Perhaps even more important than more traditional female roles, however, is communication. Women have been playing a vital role in leading families, neighbourhoods, and entire communities, organising initiatives and spreading the message of health and hygiene.
That essential communication has also been provided by female leaders within utilities, governmental departments, and local associations. In Nakuru, Kenya, Grace Kabubu is such a person, being the Public Relations Officer of NAWASSCO, the city’s water and sanitation utility.
“My greatest inspiration is from seeing change in the community,” says Grace. “Tracking that community’s story or problem, as when we begin a journey with community A, when they probably had no hope for water or sanitation services, and at the end of the journey [seeing] the joy and satisfaction on their faces is priceless.”
As with many other women doing similar work in countries where WSUP operates, communicating the needs and the achievements of resilient and engaged residents, the more involved with that reality Grace becomes, the more she wants to share. “Capturing that journey inspires me to do more and share the story to enhance growth and knowledge.”
It is about telling stories, which is one of her passions from a very early age. “I loved telling and reading about stories, I believe at that early age I started to shape my career knowing that I would one day be a ‘storyteller’.”
Knowledge is key
Grace has over 10 years of experience in communication, knowledge management, and public relations. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication – Public Relations and Development Communication and is currently finalizing her Masters in Development Communication. Her experience in media monitoring, brand strategy and implementation is vast.
At NAWASSCO, she is in charge of internal and external communications, the development of knowledge sharing and learning processes, systems and tools, especially social media platforms that enable collaboration and continuous improvement and data-based decision making. She also actively supports NAWASSCOAL (NAWASSCO’s subsidiary company) in communication and knowledge management.
Being a woman has posed some difficulties along the way, according to Grace. “One of the greatest challenges is cultural perception and beliefs,” she says. “I have previously worked with communities that find it challenging when women address them. This may seem like a walk in the park, but it can cost a community development and growth.”
Her main tools when faced with that kind of obstacle is knowledge and information. “I have learnt to overcome this challenge by ensuring that I have done proper research about the community, thus enabling me to establish strategies.”
More female leaders
Since becoming a leader in her field, Grace has also worked hard to overcome any difficulty stemming from the fact that she occupies a managerial position. “In the early years, there could have been a general perception of women not having the capacity to lead in many sectors. Over the years, this notion has changed with the experience of various women shattering the leadership ceiling,” Grace says.
“The instances of women being considered ‘tea servers’ in board rooms have drastically reduced and are almost non-existent. It is against this backdrop that we see CEOs, board chairs, and female presidents who have become great leadership manuals to other women.”
Some might still point to a lingering reluctance in some areas to accept women in more highly skilled roles, but Grace believes that her area, of communications and public relations, particularly in the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector, has been a positive example.
“I believe the WASH and the communication spaces have embraced more women. It’s interesting and exciting to see more women in technical/manual jobs that were previously considered male dominated. Those are great stories of inspiration that build and enhance the women’s leadership manual.”
Women for the climate
Grace Kabubu clearly understands what the main existential threat to the communities she works with, now and in the future, is: climate change. She is also convinced that women play a vital role in the fight against the damage being done to the planet and, particularly, the climate adaption required for vulnerable communities to survive and prosper.
“We no longer see rain when we are supposed to. Seasons have changed, sometimes the weather patterns change suddenly, which affects communities especially farmers,” she says. “I believe women in the WASH sector can play a pivotal role in enhancing provision of sustainable water and sanitation solutions.”
But how, exactly? According to Grace, women have a unique position within communities that allow them to understand problems better and find appropriate solutions. “As a woman in the sector, I believe we are at a vantage point, as we are available to educate and create awareness to the community, about how they can work towards climate change mitigation.”
Just like her own skills as a professional communicator, Grace says that female residents have a powerful tool in their voice and the strength of their message. “In all community meetings, women should use their voice to encourage members of the community to grow more trees. And to mobilise community groups to be climate change mitigation champions through activities, such as tree planting and the use of clean green energy.”
That power of communication is not only a tool that improves our present. It impacts the future as well, Grace says. “Women are also great transferors of knowledge, within their nurturing role. They can also carry the climate change mitigation strategies to generations – a snowball effect from one generation to the other.”
Top image: A woman carrying a bucket of water in a community in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: Brian Otieno