By Calvin Onyango
Dandora dumpsite is Nairobi’s principal dumping site. The dumpsite, which is the largest in East Africa, was opened in 1975 by the World Bank and was deemed full by 2001. It is an environmental hazard as the burning of waste causes severe respiratory issues. A study conducted by the UN environmental programmes in 2007 found that about half the 330 children living near the dumpsite suffered from respiratory illnesses.
Despite this, it continues to operate, with at least 2500 people making a living from the 32-acre garbage site. There exist numerous gender inequalities between men and women in waste management. Since the inception of Dandora dumpsite in 1975, male waste workers have dominated women in waste management work. Of all the employees, only about 1% are women. The division of labour is gendered, where men are promoted to work as loaders and collectors, while women do the more peripheral duties such as sweeping and street cleaning. The men say that is how the workers decided to divide the work because women like sweeping. According to others,only men, not women, can handle machinery and technology. The women are considered neither strong nor fast enough. However, one woman who had done loading and collecting had a contrary opinion on the matter “No it’s not heavy,” she says, “It’s alright, I like it. I wanted to continue working but they said “no it’s a men’s job.”
The strong division of labour in waste management services is based on deep rooted and narrow ideas that people have about what women and men can and cannot do. These are gender stereotypes.
As a result of being locked out of most of the duties, there exists a big difference in pay between men and women. Male workers take more home on average in comparison to their female counterparts. Workers who are employed through the truck driver scheme (all of whom are men) are paid monthly while the street cleaners, mostly women, get wages which are significantly lower.
The situation is unlikely to change without women winning the struggle for gender equality in solid waste management.