Being a woman in a traditionally male profession isn’t easy anywhere in the world, but in developing countries it can be even harder to break gender stereotypes.
Growing up, Becky Kieha never dreamed she’d earn a living driving travellers around Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in an overland truck, as the first female overland truck driver in East Africa. And it’s safe to say she never would have thought her story – captured by Intrepid Travel as part of its Be Intrepid campaign – would be selected and aired as part of GLP's 6th Annual Short Film Showcase: Best Sustainable Tourism Films of 2019.
But that’s exactly what’s in store at ITB Berlin this evening, and the timing couldn’t be better; with Intrepid launching a women-only expedition in Kenya, in the lead up to International Women’s Day on March 8. The trip, led by Becky herself, builds on the first three Women’s Expeditions in Iran, Jordan and Morocco; each of which is designed to offer a deeper understanding of the customs, challenges and lives of women around the world.
As the Group continues working towards the goal of doubling its female leaders by 2020 – jumping from 156 to more than 266 globally since this goal was set in 2017 – we recognise the importance of sharing stories like Becky’s to inspire long-term change. To mark Becky’s triumphs, we’ve recapped her journey below.
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To locals, she’s known as ‘Mama Overland’, but her real name is Becky Kieha. For the last six years, Becky’s day job has been to sit behind the wheel of a custom-built overland safari truck, driving the dusty back highways of East Africa, from the Masai Mara to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.
In fact, Becky’s a little special: she’s the first female overland truck driver in East Africa, ever.
“I longed to be a truck driver since I was a young girl,” Becky says. “My dad was a truck driver. Now I love my job. I drive travellers and my guests to national parks to see the wildlife.”
To really understand Becky’s story, you need to know a little about working conditions in East Africa, especially for women. The latest estimates from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index think it’ll take 135 years to close the gender pay gap in sub-Saharan Africa (North Africa is even bleaker, with projections currently siting at 153 years). The small percentage of women that do find employment usually work in agriculture, often as self-employed labourers or family workers, two forms of vulnerable employment. Female farmers produce over 80 per cent of all the food grown in Africa, but still have very few land rights or positions of influence in the industry.
Becky is one of the women fighting to change these statistics, but she says it hasn’t been easy. “At first, men used to give me a hard time. I used to be very bullied. Every place we go to, the men would react. Sometimes they scream, ‘Becky, you’re not supposed to be driving a truck! Can’t you go back and do something better, take care of your family?’ Anything to make me feel like I’m not supposed to do this.”
This discrimination is, sadly, nothing new, but Becky says she’s learned to cope better. And conditions are improving. As more East African women enter male-dominated workplaces, the associated stigma is beginning to break down. Countries like Burundi and Rwanda are beginning to lead the way, having closed more than 80% of their participation and opportunity gender gaps.
Dinah Musindarwezo, the executive director of African Women’s Development and Communication Network, has even floated the idea of copying Iceland and legislating to ban compensation disparities based on gender.
For countries like Uganda and Ethiopia, as well as Kenya and Tanzania (where Becky drives) that reality is still a way off, but Intrepid’s East Africa overland truck Workshop Manager, George Njau, says that women like Becky are inspiring a new generation of African women.
“Becky is very famous,” he says. “My daughter, she loves Becky so much because she is driving trucks. She calls her Aunty Becky. She says, ‘One day I’d like to drive like Aunty Becky.’ I say you can drive if you want to, just have the courage, determination, and you’ll make it through. She has made a lot of companies think about employing female drivers now. We’re looking forward to having a second lady driver, all because of Becky.”
Evidently, the attitudes of men in the region are changing as well. Male drivers and Becky’s workshop colleagues are much more positive about sharing the road with women, and she’s finally getting the moral support she deserves. The Group’s African Overland team are already looking to hire their second female driver.
And if there's one piece of advice that Becky can give to females aspiring to her job, it's ‘Nakoudini amini.’ “Nakoudini amini is believe in yourself,” she says. “Every day you say to yourself, ‘I’m a go-getter.’ You’ll get it. You’ll get whatever you want.”
The Kenya Women’s Expedition, to be matched with further itineraries in Turkey, India and Nepal, will give travellers the chance to meet a range of local women – from entrepreneurs in Mwariki Village, to female park rangers at Mt Kenya and Maasai villagers in the Masai Mara.