Who says that women can’t be faecal sludge emptiers?

emptiers zambia

Meet Mukuka Mutale, mother and a proud sanitation entrepreneur from Kasama, Zambia.  An emptier herself, she strongly believes that there is a future for women in the faecal sludge management (FSM) business.

Mukuka started as a customer service personnel at the Chambeshi Water & Sanitation Company. Every day she would read meters and disconnect the service of clients defaulting on their payments. Like some of her colleagues, she aspired for a new challenge and a better paying job. Faecal sludge emptying provided that opportunity. Whenever she would mention the possibility of a career shift, her colleagues would say:

‘You won’t last in the industry.’

‘Why would you choose to be an emptier as a lady? Even if you join us you will end up doing desk work/record keeping because emptying is a man’s job.’

Determined to show her colleagues that emptying is not simply a man’s job - she made the shift. She has not looked back since then.

Asked if she regrets her decision, with a wide smile she said no, ‘I am proud to put food on the table and feed my three-year-old daughter doing decent work.’

Mukuka hard at work

Mukuka hard at work

Mukuka as a role model for her daughter

Mukuka as a role model for her daughter

When asked what helped her to make this leap, she mentioned that support from her family and her relatives were crucial. And, improvements introduced by SNV’s urban sanitation and occupational health and safety (OHS) efforts – through the WASH SDGs consortium project – helped make the emptying profession more attractive.

To name a few, SNV, with its partners, Chambeshi Water and Sanitation Company, Kasama Municipal Council and the Water and Sanitation Association (WASAZA) in Zambia,

  • formalised emptying work through the registration of emptiers as an association,

  • distributed and mandated the use of personal and protective equipment (PPE),

  • promoted the use of equipment, e.g., E-vac, to end manual emptying practice, and

  • built emptiers’ capacity in basic book- and record keeping and conducted trainings in manual and mechanical emptying to professionalise services.

Today, Mukuka, finds herself in a fulfilling job. She also considers herself a trendsetter for women in FSM and a community hero. She exclaimed:

‘It is an achievement to be the “first lady” of FSM in the Northern part of Zambia, especially because it is a male-dominated business. In some quarters women sanitation emptiers continue to be stigmatised.'

With a twinkle in her eye she said, ‘Looking clean and good will not feed me. Shit business is good business.’

Written by: Mwangala Mulandano, Behaviour Change Communications Advisor, SNV in Zambia