Zaituni Kanenje: Interview with a leader in water and sanitation in Kenya

Themes: Gender
Countries: Kenya

Zaituni Kanenje is a woman making a difference in the growing lakeside town of Nakuru, Kenya.

As Manager for the Low-Income Customer Services department of NAWASSCO, the utility for the town, Zaituni focuses on extending WASH services into the poorer communities. And with this goal, reaching women is particularly important.

“Without water, without proper hygiene, without proper sanitation, as a woman you are finished,” she says.

WSUP has worked with Zaituni since 2013 to improve services to low-income communities in Nakuru.

Talking in the run-up to International Women’s Day 2018, Zaituni says she is positive about how women are driving change in water and sanitation.

“When it comes to WASH, women are really taking the initiative more than men,” says Zaituni.

“Most of the low-income consumer services positions are being taken up by women. Why? We understand more when it comes to the needs of water and sanitation. We understand why it is important to shorten the distance from the household to the water points.”

But its not just about understanding why women benefit so much from improved services. Zaituni also believes that women have the skills needed to build a customer base and persuade low-income residents to pay for higher quality services, rather than taking harmful water for free from a river.

“And women, we are social in nature,” she says. “Dealing with poor people, you really need to be committed. You really need to talk to that person, to convince that person why he or she should take up that service and pay for it. Water is a basic need of course, and people believe its supposed to be free – without looking at the cost that’s involved in producing that water.”

“Now that clean, safe water is being provided to them, we also need to talk to them so that they can pay for the services.”

Employment opportunities through water services

Water services also generate employment opportunities which women benefit from.

“We give priority to women, when it comes to operating water kiosks. When given the chance, they actually do it very well. Before we give the water kiosks over to women to operate, we give them training – book-keeping, how to manage groups and how to come up with income-generating activities.”

“Our water kiosks are designed in such a way that they are able to sell water and also sell other items like bread, milk, soap in the shop. At the water kiosks, most of the women will come to wash their clothes, and with that, we have seen most of the women having women’s groups, and most of them are held when they come to fetch water.”