Kate Karuri: Creating Dignity and Visibility for Kenya’s Domestic Workers

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Article by: bird story agency

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After managing and supervising house helps for over 16 years, Kate Karuri started a training program that coaches both domestic workers and their employers on workplace dignity in the home.

Kate Karuri is creating dignity and visibility for Kenya's domestic workers

Esther Musembi, bird story agency

Kate Karuri worked with and managed domestic workers in Kenya for over 16 years before calling it a day.

But in those 16 years, she saw how in-the-home domestic workers (known locally as housemaids, nannies, or house helps) were treated by their employers and also noticed the behavioural changes of domestic workers after they were employed.

"From my experience, I had noticed a recurrent behavioural and attitude change in domestic workers upon securing employment, but I also saw how clients treated their workers when they entered their households. That prompted my decision to coach nannies, maids and clients to ensure mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s role," Karuri said.

So in 2022, she set up a training program in Nairobi, The Graceful Maids and Nannies, to coach domestic workers and their employers on how to live well with each other.

"We are not a domestic workers bureau. Our organisation operates differently from bureaus as we do not engage in the sourcing, selecting, and placing maids within households," said Karuri.

Her program provides training services to domestic workers who are already employed and the training happens in the home where the worker and employer both feel comfortable.

"This gives the client security that their home is under the best care possible and gives the worker confidence to do their duties diligently," said Karuri.

The training sessions include general etiquette, child development and first aid skills, which are often overlooked when hiring domestic workers.

"Kate trained me on everything housekeeping. She taught me how to handle children and also how to play with them," explained Sophia Nyambura, one of the program's graduates.

"She... taught me how to communicate effectively, which has made it easy for me to deal with different characters and made it so easier for me in the home I'm currently working in," added another.

Current statistics by the International Labour Organization show that Kenya, with a population of around 53 million, has about two million domestic workers. The Kenyan government permits 65 agencies to hire domestic workers.

But research suggests that very few of those know their rights or where to go for assistance.

Several laws in Kenya protect the rights of domestic workers. This includes the right to fair remuneration and reasonable working conditions. Employers are also stipulated by law to pay for their house helps' National Security and Social Fund as well as their National Hospital Insurance Fund which, researchers agree, most employers don't adhere to.

Across Africa, the experience tends to be the same. Millions of women are employed informally in the sector, with little recourse to laws designed to protect both employees and employers.

Karuri's training programme helps with these issues by ensuring that her training covers rights and the law, as well as furnishing graduates with workbooks, reports and sample contracts for their employers.

"Upon completion of the training, we furnish the client with a professionally drafted sample maid or nanny contract that accounts for minimum wages determined based on the worker's years of experience and other relevant allowances," she explained.

The contract serves as a comprehensive guide to fostering a conducive working and living environment for both parties, with provisions to accommodate potential amendments in the event of new recruitment. This ensures that both parties are covered, with little risk of misunderstanding, she explained further.

"I am happy that Njoki, my domestic worker, got trained by Karuri because it made the transition of her working in our home easier, and my home was up and running as soon as she arrived. She uses household products without wastage and is very good at balancing housework and handling the kids. I also learnt about my responsibilities to her as her employer," said Nairobi resident, Evelyn Wambui.

"The prior training reduced the friction I had experienced before with other helps because Njoki knew what she was doing," she added.

Karuri is quick to acknowledge that the training she supplies is only a first step and urges employers to continue empowering their house staff.

"If you are able to provide education or training opportunities for them, please do, as you are also empowering another family. Another woman."

As a parting shot, Karuri said she hopes for a future where domestic workers are treated with dignity, equality and respect. 

"This is my small way of bringing dignity to this industry. By educating both employers and domestic workers."

bird story agency