There are numerous projects and interventions tailored towards empowering a woman in the society and especially in the low income areas.

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Nairobi’s slums have a lion’s share of women struggling on a daily basis to put bread on the table.

These women are involved in small scale trade be it vegetable selling, hawking house hold goods among other businesses while some are involved in domestic work like washing of clothes and utensils, taking care of children or even cooking.

However women continue to face a myriad of challenges which are hampering them from gaining economically. One of the hurdles is unpaid care work.

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This is the work that is done by an individual without compensation.

According to the Care work research, part of a four year broad programme funded by the European Union (EU) and spearheaded by Oxfam-Kenya in partnership with SITE Enterprise Promotion, National Organization of Peer Educators (NOPE) and Youth Alive, which targeted 10,000 women domestic workers and 20,000 women small scale traders in the five informal settlements of Mukuru, Kibera, Kawangware, Korogocho and Mathare in Nairobi, women spent more hours in unpaid care work compared to their male counterparts. Meaning even when they are engaged in small scale trade, they still spend most of their time in care work.


Beatrice Jemurungu, a small scale trader specializing in crisps and peanut butter production in Gatina-Kawangware, says domestic workers face a host of challenges.

“Some employers will give you some house hold chores to perform, you even discuss about the payment only to given more work which was not part of the initial agreement but the pay will remain the same,” Jemurungu notes.

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The mother of four and a widow who has doubled as a domestic worker and a small scale trader in Kawangware since 2006 says unpaid care work is one of the reasons most women in the low income settlements are not economically empowered.

“We are taking care of our children, other people’s children yet we are not compensated for the work done yet we spend quite a lot of time on unpaid care work,” she says.

Her sentiments are shared by two others Ruth Kemunto and Doris Makokha who are grateful to Oxfam Kenya which is spearheading the Ksh.247.6 Million Wezesha jamii project aimed at promoting livelihoods and inclusion of vulnerable women, want the program to be sustained.

“We have been sensitized on our rights as domestic workers and women small scale traders, we now have information on how much money we should be paid and what projects we should venture in,” they say.


John Owegi tasked with Women Rights programme at Oxfam Kenya says there are broader implications of  unpaid care work such that they deny women economic rights since they are mostly involved in activities that are not generating income.

This has also made them not to access credit facilities which would have otherwise contributed to their welfare.

He says health risks as a result of women being involved in domestic work that takes long hours has seen some women suffer from backaches while others have been exposed to dangerous substances thus denying them rights to health.

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Owegi further says that their right to proper designated work has been curtailed as a direct consequence of unpaid care work.

That some women have been forced by their husbands to quit their jobs and concentrate on taking care of children and farms and normally this is not compensated for by the parties involved.

“The National Government in collaboration with the county Governments should come up with free Early Childhood Development Education Centers across the country and make it free to the vulnerable families to enable women take their children to these institutions as they engage in income earning activities,” Owegi notes.

He opines that health care services should be made accessible to lessen time taken by women while taking their loved ones to hospitals.

This will go a long way in contributing to the affordable health care as envisioned in the Big four agenda by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Access to safe drinking water, proper garbage collection and improved security in the slums are other interventions that Oxfam is proposing.

To this end, Oxfam Kenya is working in partnership with the Government to provide clean drinking water with water ATMs a pilot project in Mathare slums where residents are now buying water at Ksh.5 per 20 litres.

National Organization of Peer Educators-NOPE program Officer Justus Muthuri submits that some of the impediments to addressing the issue of unpaid care work in Kenya are cultural practices.

“Ours is a patriarchal society where men are not ready to share certain house hold responsibilities with women, thus placing a burden on the female gender,” Muthuri says.

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He says a housewife for instance, is expected to wake up early at around 4.00am in the morning, prepare her children to go to school and make sure the husband is ready to go to work.

She will again attend to house chores the entire day and be the one to sleep late in the night while everybody else is resting.

He says this is the proper definition of unpaid care work and that there has to be recognition by the Government and a reduction as well as redistribution of unpaid care work to help women in low income areas.

Muthiri says children have not been spared since some of them, with their mothers being overwhelmed with domestic work, are forced to chip in and  start doing difficult chores in the house which is  affecting their health, education as well as their physical growth.

“Unless drastic measures are taken, women will continue to wallow in poverty and hopelessness as a result of unpaid care work which is not contributing to their economic empowerment,” he adds.

NOPE and partners established that existing legislation and structures that support human rights, women empowerment, poverty reduction, provision of pro-poor services and effective participation of citizens for accountability is key.

This can be achieved by implementing Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the Kenya Vision 2030, domestication of the international instruments on women’s rights, the Kenya Slum Upgrading Project and the National Youth Service (NYS) Programme.


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