Last Thursday I attended the closing ceremony of Kenya’s first mason training of this year. In these trainings, people working in masonry and related construction work are being trained “on the job”, to become certified biogas constructors. In Kenya, the training consists of two theoretical days, and eight practical days. At the end of the training, one or two digesters are built and ready for operation.
I was especially interested to visit the ceremony because five women participated in this training (out of a total of 28). This might seem low, but compared with other countries one fifth women in these trainings is quite high.
All national biogas programmes have difficulties finding women that want to become a biogas constructor. It’s part of my job to motivate staff to ensure that not only men are trained and to take special measures to include more women. Women can be very good biogas contractors (or biogas entrepreneurs, as multiple jobs are possible in this field). In marketing and extension they have an added value; as the prospective clients are also women. Female biogas entrepreneurs can explain more easily to the client how the digester and the stove have to be operated.
However, until now only few women have been trained in the several countries. I have been told that women are not strong enough (or not technical enough) to do the physical work associated with masonry. Also culturally it is not accepted that women do this kind of work. The female trainees I spoke with yesterday mentioned this as well. These women, farmers themselves, heard about the trainings via a women’s farmer group and decided they wanted to join, as it gives them a good new job opportunity.
It is much appreciated that the national programme brings in these motivated women. Their number can even increase with some simple solutions such as the provision of child care, holding trainings close to women’s homes or designing trainings that start with basic masonry skills. But it would be a waste to stop with taking extra efforts once a certain number is achieved. Women – and men – that have no experience in masonry don’t possess the skills yet to start building biogas plants after just one ten days training. I doubt whether these four ladies are going to be constructors now, and they also did not seem to be too sure themselves. In fact, most trained masons have difficulties in developing their entrepreneurial skills as was already discovered in Tanzania.
Therefore, different kinds of measures can be taken to give these women extra follow-up support. It’s not enough to bring in women as trainees. This support should not only be technical, but it should also focus on business skills and confidence building. These women can become perfectly capably to build digesters, but they will need to be self- confident enough to start a biogas business, go to farms and sell their product; and also to convince the clients that women can be great biogas entrepreneurs.
All national programmes are struggling with this issue. Some are quite creatively and actively looking for ways to improve women’s participation. I am therefore looking forward to share some experiences and lessons among the programmes this year and moreover, to have some role-models within this programme to motivate other women.