In the words of Akiko Chiba: “Enhanced economic power will enable women to be more resilient.”
Akiko Chiba is the country representative for Peace Winds Japan Kenya. In partnership with UN Women Kenya, Peace Winds is implementing economic empowerment initiatives under the Leadership, Empowerment, Access, and Protection (LEAP) project to support refugee and host communities’ women and girls in accessing new sources of income and economic opportunities through skills and livelihoods development.
Vehicle maintenance and repair is an industry that women do not traditionally participate in here in Turkana County. If women can successfully engage in auto mechanics, it can showcase their ability and capacity for the community to know that they can do it. Peace Winds Japan, through the support of UN Women Kenya and the Government of Japan, engaged nine refugee and host community women to be trained as auto mechanical technicians. They were trained by the Toyota Kenya Academy, and we have them working here in Kakuma at the workshop we run on behalf of UNHCR. We are building a garage to serve humanitarian and government vehicles in the area, and they will serve as part of the workforce there with other refugee and host community trainees.
The LEAP project was necessary because there are the few opportunities for women in refugee and host communities in Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement to participate in income generating opportunities. The goal was for the trainees to act as role models to encourage other women to take up non-traditional industries and participate in social and economic development, and to get the community to acknowledge that women can take up these roles at work. Economic empowerment will help alleviate their situation including mitigating potential risk factors like GBV. Enhanced economic power will enable them to be more resilient.
Some of the challenges we faced were getting women enrolled because of community cultural perceptions. It took a lot of work to get men from the community on board – even to let women leave the household and stay out for the training period. We also didn't get many female applicants because of cultural perceptions on the work that women and men can do.
However, we've seen successes, with all nine women being trained successfully. Three of them came out at the top of their class, and they are doing their work now without supervision. The project changed their lives in that they are now able to transition from informal to formal work.
We found that women here are competent and engaged when they are given the opportunity. They consistently perform better than men and it goes to show that if we give women a chance, they make the most of it. That's why projects like this are important so that we can give them that chance. These women will give the hope and serve as role models for other women and girls.