Julia Anyango, 31, lost her job as a domestic helper when the foreign family she was working for left Kenya and returned to her home country in December last year. Overwhelmed by the sudden layoff and no savings, her life hit rock bottom. But as a single mother of three in Kawangware, a humble suburb of Nairobi, she had no time to grieve.
She immediately looked for another job and got a job as a cleaner at a Chinese restaurant in the Yaya Center shopping mall. But business suffered as a result of the pandemic, and although the restaurant owner struggled to keep the doors open, he ultimately had to close. Anyango lost her job again.RELATED
The idea of his children going to bed hungry at night overwhelmed him. Determined to succeed, she opened her own business: a tailoring and hairdressing salon. She had acquired some basic skills in a tailoring and beauty course she took after leaving school at the age of 10. It was her mother who encouraged her to do this training, now 16 years ago.
“I worked in the Chinese restaurant for four months and spent part of my salary buying hairdressing equipment,” he says. “But then I had to sell the hair dryer, electric shaver and sewing machine that I had bought to raise the 15,000 Kenyan shillings (117 euros) they were asking me as a deposit for the salon,” he recalls. Finally, Anyango opened its business in February. She uses a sewing machine lent to her by a friend for the tailoring part, while the hairdressing job basically consists of braiding.
For now, the 3,000 shillings (23.50 euros) of monthly earnings barely cover her housing and food expenses, but although she struggles to buy cloth and tools for her business, she is hopeful that things will improve in due course.
Her resilience has earned her a place in a pandemic recovery initiative for domestic workers in Kenya – the project ‘Inua Mama Fua’ (“Support the cleaner” in Swahili), launched in April 2020 by the Dhobi Women’s Network, an organization whose work is dedicated to empowering domestic workers in the country. Along with Anyango, 60 women are already benefiting from the initiative.
According to the United Nations, there are approximately 67 million domestic workers in the world. The vast majority are women who often work irregularly and, although they try to maintain their standard of living, the lack of access to social protection systems has made them especially vulnerable to the pandemic.
Under the umbrella of the initiative, these women, who live in the poor areas of Nairobi, can access loans of up to 15,000 shillings to boost their businesses or start new ones. However, to have access to these loans, they must be part of a collaborative financing group where its members make weekly collections so that others can borrow money from the collection. This strategy fosters a culture of savings and ensures that they have a sustainable flow of capital.
Grace Ngugi, executive director of the Dhobi Women’s Network, explains that women receive loans with an interest of 2.5%, of which 1% is reinvested in their collective banking groups and the other 1.5% covers expenses administrative. According to a 2020 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey, domestic workers are a key part of the country’s shadow economy, with 767,900 new jobs in 2019.
“Women are the backbone of this country’s economy. When they lose their jobs, their families suffer,” says Ngugi. The project ‘Inua Mama Fua’, who won the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Legacy Award 2021 given by World Justice Project, has been considered exemplary for its fight against gender inequality and discrimination.
Like Julia Anyango, Rose Nyangiza (47) was also able to change her life thanks to this initiative. She created her own micro-business selling various products such as sweets and masks, after leaving her job as a “mama fua” (cleaner) where she was exploited.
“I worked in a hardware store that closed in April of last year. So I started doing occasional cleaning jobs to generate income and feed my three children,” he says. He could do jobs worth 250 shillings (2 euros), but they paid him 150 (1.17 euros) or even worse: they didn’t pay him. “Some would pay me three or four days later and at that time [en medio de la pandemia] there was little demand. Hopefully he worked twice a week, “he says.
So she quit her “mama fua” job after 17 months and started selling candy. He invested 800 shillings (6.27 euros) to buy three packages of candy and although he made a profit of 150 shillings per package, it was a risky and tedious business. “I told myself that I needed to get enough stock to pay for a place where I could sell,” she says.
With that in mind, he joined a group banking group where he saved 50 shillings a week and got his first loan (1,200 shillings, 9.40 euros), which he used to buy more packets of candy and a dozen socks.
Since then, his business has had a stock valued at 6,000 shillings (47 euros), including various sweets, cookies and face masks. Now he sells them from his street stall next to the Paramount Plaza shopping center in Ngara, a Nairobi district known for its informal market.
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