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Opportunities At All Levels Abound for Women in Malaria Control

April 12, 2023

Rodaly Muthoni, Chief of Party for PMI Kinga Malaria in Kenya, started her career as a high school math and biology teacher and later received a master’s in medical entomology. She has worked for Abt since 2012, first as country entomology technical manager in Rwanda and as Chief of Party for PMI AIRS in Rwanda and PMI VectorLink in Mozambique. She currently heads an all-women leadership team in Kenya.

Charity Ngaruro: Your career began as a teacher. Having worked with you for many years, I know one of your strengths is your heart for teaching, mentoring, and coaching your staff. How are you supporting the accomplished women you work with to achieve greater heights?

Rodaly Muthoni: Among this team of women, there is great collaboration and a lot of dedication to ensuring that once we set an objective, we will achieve it. There's also an understanding of the roles of women outside of work. Like when someone comes in and they have a sick child, women are more empathetic about these types of situations and the willingness to step in and step up for a fellow female colleague.  What strikes me is the ambition and the diligence with which each of them works. We started up within a very short period: Ideally to set up an IRS project, you need at least six or seven months, but PMI Kinga Malaria was set up within four months. At the end of year one, we achieved over 96% spray coverage and met our entomology objectives. It has been great to work with the women in this project.

Charity Ngaruro: Having travelled in Africa and worked many years in vector control, certainly PMI Kinga Malaria stands out as an all-female led project in a very male-dominated field of vector control. How do you think having women leaders leaves a mark on the program? How does it make this program different?

Rodaly Muthoni: Vector control projects are male-dominated. It is not just a perception. It is reality. In my master’s classes, there were more men than women, and of course these men would go and work in vector control projects. This project is a clear indication that women can also lead vector control projects and excel, because we have done an exemplary job. I know most of the work in vector control project requires more physical strength than women would be thought to provide. But I have seen the ladies, the women in the PMI Kinga Malaria project are able to do this work and even go beyond what one would have expected in their performance.

Charity Ngaruro: Within PMI Kinga Malaria, how are we ensuring safeguarding and gender equity are infused within our work to ensure that women and children are safe? What policies or processes or activities in this project foster a supportive environment for women?

Rodaly Muthoni: This is one of the key items that you work on and want to achieve as a project lead—and to ensure that we achieve this before we go to the community. We have annual mandatory training for employees at Abt on safeguarding and equity. In 2022, we took a step further and had a session as a team to discuss this. We all had time to ask questions and discuss areas where we see these applying where we work and even where we live and going beyond the employees of Abt. We got a chance to spread the word to all our subcontractors and our partners, including our government partners at the Ministry of Health and with the county government. We also empower people to know that we do not want to engage children in our projects. We ask for national ID's because in Kenya, identity cards are not given to people below 18 years of age. If we see other areas where children are being made to work, then we don't just keep quiet, but we speak out. And indeed, we have a gender focal person in the PMI Kinga Malaria team who leads in ensuring that this happens.

Charity Ngaruro: In addition to the training, do we in any way try and make the work that we do attractive to women? When we go out to recruit our seasonal workers, what types of measures and operational processes do we incorporate in our programming that make it easier for women to want to be recruited to work with us as mobilizers, spray operators, and the like?

Rodaly Muthoni: We provide facilities that make working with us attractive to  women. After working with insecticides, women can take a bath in a bathrooms that are  physically separated  from the bathrooms used by males. We also provide them with sanitary towels. We realize that sanitary towels are in dire need especially in Kenya, where we have also seen our girls drop out of school during their menstrual period. IRS is a time-bound activity, and someone would not want to fail to come to work for the days that they are having their menses. I am telling you, sanitary towels are so welcome and even when you talk to them, you will hear them really appreciating this—that this makes them feel so respected. Sometimes a woman may get pregnant during the time that we are doing IRS. We don't just send them back home because the work conditions do not favor their situation. If they are pregnant, we give them a different role where they're not directly in contact with insecticide, like community mobilization. They could also help with the cleaning up of areas where we don't have any insecticide.

Charity Ngaruro: How have you built confidence or resilience over the course of your career?

Rodaly Muthoni: I must say that the number one thing that works for me is integrity. And this works by being yourself from the beginning to the end. The way you started in the morning, the way you started at the beginning of the year, be clear on your principles. What you said aligns with what you would do. Toward the end of the day, toward the end of the project, then you still stand by the same principles. Sometimes, of course there are challenges, especially in IRS.  To build resiliency, I look over the challenges and see beyond what happens when this challenge is overcome, that is, the results. When you see that, then that gives you strength to overcome the challenge and become more resilient.

Charity Ngaruro: And what would you tell young women who are just starting to work? What kind of advice would you give them? What would you like them to know?

Rodaly Muthoni: I'd like them to know that everyone has what it takes to achieve anything they set their mind to in this world. And with dedication, with commitment, and with integrity, they will achieve the dream in their heart. Then also remember that we don't achieve anything in the world alone. We must work toward being in a team. We should ensure we have taught someone else what we know and that someone else can do what we do well. You must be dedicated and aim to transfer the knowledge to someone else. That's the only way you know that you succeeded.

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