Men from Kawangware, Korogocho speak on need for recognition, reduction of unpaid care and domestic work
By Rachel Ombaka
“When we were brought up, hatukuwa tunafanya kazi ya jikoni. Vijana hawakuwa na mambo ya kusaidia nyumbani. Sisi kazi yetu ilikuwa ni kufyeka [nyasi], kuchunga ng’ombe au kuenda shule na kurudi. Tukirudi, tulikuwa tunapata mama na sisters wangu wameshashughulika [chakula] huko jikoni, tunakula na [kupumzika]. Nilipomaliza kusoma nikaja Nairobi nilipata kibarua na nikapanga nyumba yangu na nikawa najipikia na kufanya hizi kazi za nyumba.”
Mariko ‘Engineer’ Omondi Odhiambo at his workshop where he makes candles and does welding jobs in Korogocho, Nairobi on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Mariko Omondi Odhiambo – popularly known as ‘Engineer’ – says he met his wife Anne when he was on attachment as she was also studying for an engineering course. “Wakati nilioa, nilikuwa bado na ile maneno ya ‘don’t go to the kitchen when the wife is there. Nilikuwa nimeambiwa nikiingia jikoni, watasema itokonega dhako – kumaanisha huwa unapakulia bibi yako kwa hivyo wewe ndio unasumbua kwa nyumba. Hata wakati alizaa mtoto wa kwanza, sikuwa nashughulika.”
Mariko however says things changed when he underwent training and acknowledged the need for changing attitudes towards retrogressive cultural beliefs. “I learnt that my wife sio mfanyakazi na tunafaa tunasaidiana. Nilifunguka macho na nikaona hata my forefathers and I were doing something akin to slavery of women. I have seen a very big improvement in our home: hata malalamiko ya kuumwa na mgongo kwa sababu ya kazi mingi za nyumba zimepungua. I am happy with what we have achieved so far.”
Mariko preparing a meal for his wife Anne at their home on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Mariko and Anne are one of the 64 couples who have been trained under the Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW) awareness program by Youth Alive! Kenya (Y.A.K) and Oxfam, for the We-Care project in two informal settlements: Korogocho and Kwangware.
Purity Jebor, the programs officer at Y.A.K, says many societies are known to adhere to cultural norms and values.
“Women in these areas spend close to 14 hours daily on UCDW based on the average calculation from Youth Alive! Kenya’s (Y.A.K) couples’ sessions. This is equivalent to six months’ worth of time that could have otherwise been spent on income-generating activities to increase family budgets,” she says, adding that the UCDW program aims to influence households, religious leaders, local administration, policymakers, and service providers by introducing them to the 4Rs: recognition, reduction, redistribution, and representation.
Abdirizak Odame ‘Abdi’ outside his home in Korogocho on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Abdi says he was surprised when they did the training and calculated the number of hours that women spend on unpaid care and domestic work. “Tulifanya hesabu tukiangalie zile 12 hours tangu tuamke, wanawake wanafanya kazi mingi kutuliko. Kama maji imepotea you can bring the water, she can do the dishes, you can do the dishes.”
He says grew up doing equal work with his eight brothers and two sisters and does the same till today.
Abdirizak Odame mopping the house in Korogocho on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
“Mzae alikuwa ametupangie chores, unajua wewe ni siku yako ya vyombo leo au utaosha uniform and you cook na kama kuna mtoto mdogo you look after the child in turns. When I got married, I was used to [domestic work] and Islamically, once you marry na wife akijifungua, she is still in the house for 40 days, so mimi ndio nilikuwa nampikia au nachota maji. Vitu kama hizo zinapatia mtu time ya kurest. Ukisema unawachia mtu kazi yote at the end of the day anakuwa exhausted. Marriage is a matter of responsibility, ni watu kusaidiana. Wife ni helper juu vitu zingine ulikuwa unafanya ukiwa bachelor,” Abdi says.
Joshua Matheka Kimeu at the front of his shop in Korogocho on June 18, 2020. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Unlike Abdi, Matheka and his wife were advised on separate duties for husband and wife as was delegated by the community. He grew up knowing that house work was the responsibility of women. “Kwetu Ukambani kuna kazi za wanawake kama kutafuta kuni, [kupika] chakula. Lakini the moment nilianza kujoin mambo na community nilianza kujua mambo mengi tofauti zenye kwetu tunafanya na wengine hawafanyi.”
Matheka and his wife Anne outside their home. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
“Last year ndio nilianza kuitwa forums za Youth Alive! na tukahamasishwa wakacreate awareness kwetu and their community at large. Hapo ndio nikajua umuhimu wa kusaidia mama kwa nyumba ni nini. Niliingia jikoni akashangaa sana. Walienjoy nikafurahia na most of the time tunasaidiana na ninamrahisishia kazi.”
Matheka preparing a meal for his family at their home in Korogocho on June 18, 2020. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Oxfam Kenya, with the support of the European Union, undertook a gender rapid assessment in the urban informal settlements of Nairobi last year to better understand the gendered and intersectional effects and protection risks of COVID-19, and to identify safe programming gaps in the response. Researchers revealed that while the COVID-19 pandemic and related containment efforts have caused increases in women’s – and men’s – unpaid care workloads, women are still doing the bulk of this work.
Titled Care in the Time of Coronavirus: Why care work needs to be at the centre of a post-COVID-19 feminist future, the study found that women living in poverty, single mothers and essential workers as well as those belonging to minority racial and ethnic groups are being pushed furthest to the margins: “It shows the real consequences this has for the health, economic security and wellbeing of these women and their families. 26% of women surveyed said they had been physically unwell, been unable to get enough rest, or were feeling stressed and anxious because of increased care responsibilities.”
Abdirizak Odame fetching water for the house in Korogocho on June 18, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
According to the Oxfam report, before the pandemic, 57% of households in informal settlements in Nairobi had sufficient access to water compared to 26% during the pandemic. The researchers reported that the immediate crisis compounds underlying challenges of water shortages because of climate change and frequent landslides and the scarcity of water means that women and girls are spending even more time collecting water during the pandemic than they would have otherwise.
In terms of meal preparation and cooking, the study acknowledges that the process is especially time consuming as more families take their meals at home, compared to before the pandemic, when some members may have been out or at school during the day. In Nairobi’s informal settlements, 63% of women said washing, cleaning and sweeping took up most of their time, while 27% of men said the same.
73-year-old Juma Kipyegon outside his home in Kawangware, Nairobi on June 16, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
In Kawangware, Juma (popularly known as Baba Sidi) spends most of his time doing community work alongside his wife Kalithumi. “Huyu ndiye sweetheart wangu,” he says as he introduces his wife, which makes her smile. Juma hails from Kericho and Kalithumi is from Murang’a and they have been married for over 45 years. “Kisheria, kama umeoa na mke wako bado ni mdogo, atakaa kwa nyumba kama queen. Wewe kazi yako, enda uteke maji, ulete, ufue. Kupika, wewe unaingia jikoni na unapika kile mtakula. Yeye akitaka kuingia jikoni hakuna shida. Lakini mnashirikiana.”
He says their children – five boys and two girls – have followed suit: “Nikienda kwake (his son), bibi yake hatapika. Yeye ndiye atashughulika… Kama ni kanyama nini, atatengeneza ili tukule lunch. Hiyo ndio kitu tulizoea tukiwa watoto mpaka sahi tuko watu wazima.” As he is talking, one of his grand-daughters – Inti – who spends most of the day with them when the mother is at work, wakes up and is startled when she sees us in the room. Juma calms her down and within no time, she is smiling and trying to reach for his hand.
Juma and Kalithumi with their grandchildren Inti and Zaika. PHOTO | COURTESY | LAMECK OTIENO ODODO
Youth Alive and Oxfam aver that stakeholders such as Juma, Mariko, Matheka and Abdirazak are important for advocacy because they are the ones who attend policymaking processes that influence improved service delivery within communities. “Moreover, during our quarterly reflection and annual meetings, our care champions are able to voice out their concerns, allowing leaders to respond and make commitments,” says Purity Jebor, adding that the UCDW discussions will be upscaled to the national level and the organisation also plans to fully engage in development of the NCC Gender-Based Violence Management Bill to help stem the surge in GBV cases in Kenya.
The author of the article, Rachel Ombaka, is an online sub-editor. She is an alumnus of WAN-IFRA’s Women in News leadership program as well as a member of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) program for women in media and politics.
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