Written by Audrey Masitsa
Jane Kiio is the embodiment of this year’s International Women’s Day of #BreakTheBias. The 52-year-old mother and grandmother has withstood travesty and risen like a phoenix from the ashes, taking up and thriving in a career in a male-dominated field.
Jane, a formerly imprisoned woman, was remanded and imprisoned for a total of two years. As a single parent, Jane’s imprisonment had a snowball effect. Her children were forced to live on their own. They could not continue with their education and her older daughter had to leave her marriage to take care of her younger siblings. They struggled to put food on the table.
While in prison, Jane took part in counselling training and then embarked on a journey of self-forgiveness and self-awareness upon which she sought the forgiveness of her children by writing them individual letters.
“In truth, I had wronged them. When I was imprisoned, they really suffered and turned to unsavoury ways to survive,” she explains in an interview on Clean Start’s podcast, The Heart of the Circle. “So, I asked for forgiveness, and we were able to love each other and move forward into a new life.”
After prison, Jane started selling old newspapers and car batteries to make ends meet. It took an opportunity with one of Clean Start’s partners, Buildher, to transform her life.
Buildher equips women in Kenya with accredited construction and manufacturing skills for greater financial prosperity, changing male attitudes and promoting gender equality within the construction industry.
Jane got a training opportunity in carpentry and joinery which gave her skills in designing and building furniture. This is a male-dominated field that many women shy away from. Self-belief pushed Jane forward helping her excel in her studies.
“During the counselling, I learned self-acceptance and that I can do anything that can uplift my life.”
When she completed her training, she found a job with one of Kenya’s leading casket makers. In a team of over 80 carpenters, there were only three female trained carpenters. They were faced with doubt and even resistance from some of their male counterparts but over time were able to establish their skillsets.
Jane and her female counterparts now build caskets for children, which is considered taboo among many cultures. She continues to break the bias, discrimination and stereotypes with her work and encourages women to be courageous.
“There is no job that a woman cannot do. Let’s drop that notion and go for what we want,” Jane says.
In the future, Jane hopes to open her own workshop in which she plans to employ more women.
Listen in to Jane’s interview.