Hiring house help – who are often referred to as “Auntie” – in Kenya is accepted, or even expected. In fact, there is a popular Kenyan television show named “Auntie Boss” which depicts the life of a house-help and their love-hate relationships with the families they work for. The International Labor Organization estimates that in Kenya alone, domestic workers are well over 2 million. Moreover, children make up nearly 30% of the world’s domestic worker population.
In Kenya, house-helps are often hired under stressful conditions with no written agreements, which in turn leave them highly vulnerable against their employers. Domestic workers often endure long working hours without rest or leave, underpayment or non-payment of wages, may even be mistreated or denied food. In numerous cases, house-helps have also been physically and sexually assaulted by their employers. Since the implementation of the Kenyan Employment Act 2007, house-helps are entitled to the same legal protection as any other employees, with minimum rights and benefits (monthly salary of USD 110 in 2015). However, domestic helpers continue to be viewed as the absolute bottom tier of the social hierarchy within the Kenyan society.
Culturally, house-helps are often viewed to be uneducated or unskilled making their work largely unappreciated. Whilst many house-helps are poor young women who come from the rural areas, with little skills to help them in their daily plight to earn a living, this is certainly not always the case. Rather, a majority of domestic workers come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have had to endure hardships such as early pregnancy and marriage, being orphaned and living with HIV/AIDS. Betty – our wonderful house help is a case in point. She was top of her class during her high-school days and was subsequently accepted into law-school. Yet, having come from a low-income family with her father having passed away, Betty had no choice but to take up the job as a house-help. In Kenya, a country with such high employment rates, house-keeping may become the only practical way of making a living, even for many with college degrees.
Whilst many of us who hire house-help may like to believe that we are the bosses around the house, the reality however is, more often than not, house helps are the ones who run our homes, hence the title ‘Auntie Boss’. Let us not forget to appreciate the hard work of our house-help as well as the great trouble we may run into without their help!