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Sexual harassment blocks young women’s training in Kenya’s automotive industry

11 August, 2022At a two-day workshop in Nairobi, 3- 4 August, sexual harassment was identified as impeding young women from pursuing learnerships and skills training in Kenya’s automotive industry. One of the participants narrated how difficult it is for young women to enter the industry as technicians, artisans, or mechanics because of the pervasive sexual harassment.

“As a young woman you have the urge to acquire skills, and you are eager to learn, as you are new to the field. However, the opportunities for the artisan training are found in the established garages in the informal sector where most male trainers demand sex from young women as a condition for undergoing training. This causes most young women to change from one workplace to another in search of a suitable place for their learnerships where they can obtain skills and knowledge without being sexually harassed. Imagine you are lying on your back fixing a car, and a man starts groping you anyhow. This dampens your learning experience,” narrated Wambui at the workshop attended by 30 participants including 11 women.

“At one garage I worked for months without touching a spanner: without being given skills learning opportunities. I ended up washing cars simply because no one was willing to mentor me as a trainee. Obviously, I was being punished for refusing sexual advances. In other instances, the male technicians will try to lure you with money by giving you large sums of money for doing minor repairs. But when you reject their advances; they start ignoring you.”

“Women are vulnerable during the beginning of their careers in the auto sector as most of them are not paid wages when undergoing training. What is worse is that there are no support mechanisms for young women who enter the industry, and in most cases, they are on their own. It is only after joining the Amalgamated Union of Kenyan Metal Workers (AUKMW) that I realised that unions could offer support to the young women artisans.”

Wambui says sexual harassment is common in the male dominated informal sector known locally as Jua Kali “hot sun” in Swahili as most of the auto repairs are done in the open roadside garages and workshops.  


Rose Omamo, general secretary of the AUKMW and IndustriALL Global Union vice president says:

“Shop stewards must lead on the dialogue on gender-based violence and harassment in the automotive sector and the Jua Kali. The union must advocate for the ratification of Convention 190 to eliminate gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work and for the implementation of Recommendation 206 so that gaps in the current laws are closed. All workers – women and men – should be sensitized on GBVH.” 

Explained Paule France Ndessomin IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa who participated at the meeting.

“Our mindsets must change as unionists if we are to effectively deal with gender-based violence and harassment. Workers must know their rights and existing mechanisms to stop GBVH and must reports violations and act against the perpetrators.”

The AUKMW, an affiliate of IndustriALL Global Union, and the IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa regional office, organized the workshop. The AUKMW which organizes workers in the automotive sector, has formed partnerships with the Jua Kali automobile sector to protect workers’ rights.