Domestic workers push State to ratify safety conventions

Domestic Workers Protest

Kenyan domestic workers during a past demonstration in Nairobi, over their rights

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Most domestic workers operate in risky and inaccessible environments that do not promote basic human rights, decent work, social protection, safety and occupational health.
  • The national celebrations were held at the East African Institute of Homecare Management in Githurai 45, Kiambu County.

In 2012, Sophia Amimo left the country for Bahrain to look for greener pastures as a domestic worker.

At first, Sophia says things were rosy and fulfilling in her job. Hell broke loose shortly thereafter.

In an interview with, she recounted how she escaped a gang rape ordeal and lost about Sh500,000 after one of her employers refused to pay her salary, which had accumulated for several months.

“I was usually overworked, abused and neglected. It was one of the most trying moments of my life, more so being in a foreign country,” she says.

At one time, she was required to take care of pets, which included cats and dogs. She sustained serious injuries after she was attacked by one of the dogs.

“You go to a home and among the work you are supposed to do is taking care of the pets. I at one time was required to take care of five cats and two dogs. It was a challenge as I had no prior knowledge of or training in how to take care of pets,” she adds.

Not ready to give up on her search for greener pastures and make it in life, the tour of duty would see her also work in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In these countries, she worked as a domestic worker and in several companies as secretary and sales person.

And even though she terms the pay for domestic work and other jobs good, she has reservations about how workers are treated in these Gulf and Middle East countries.

Joyce Mwikali had a child when she was 15. To enable her to take care of her child, she started looking for a job locally. The only job she could get was being a house girl that she gladly took.

In the course of the job, Mwikali says she was sexually abused three times. She opted to keep quiet.

“I was then very naïve and not empowered at all, so I kept quite as I was sexually violated. I feared speaking up so as not to lose my job.”

International Domestic Workers Day

The two stories are some of the tales that were shared by domestic workers during celebrations to mark International Domestic Workers Day on Thursday last week.

Most domestic workers operate in risky and inaccessible environments that do not promote basic human rights, decent work, social protection, safety and occupational health.

The national celebrations were held at the East African Institute of Homecare Management in Githurai 45, Kiambu County.

The event brought together different stakeholders, including government officials, non-state actors and domestic workers.

The day is dedicated to celebrating domestic workers globally. On this day in 2011, the ILO law for protecting domestic workers, commonly known as Convention 189(C189), came into effect. Convention (C190) was also effected to end violence and harassment at the workplace.

Speaking during the event, Ms Edith Murogo, the founder and executive director of the Centre for Domestic Training and Development, called for the consideration of the plight of domestic workers and investment in their recovery and social protection post Covid-19.

“Domestic workers have borne an increased care burden as lockdowns and other protection measures were affected. Many of them lost their jobs, while those who remained behind were forced to work long hours without off days and on half pay,” said Ms Murogo.

She observed that for many domestic workers, these responsibilities did not translate into higher wages but gave rise to heightened mental stress and incidents of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

She said her organisation, together with the Githurai 45-based institute, has been at the forefront of empowering domestic workers in Kenya since 2003.

“To date, we have trained over 30,000 domestic workers in employment and income generation and have contributed to a paradigm shift on how domestic workers are viewed by their employers.”


Domestic workers are normally trained in homecare management, housekeeping, childcare, cookery, nursing, life skills, waste disposal and pet care, among other skills.

During the celebrations, the domestic workers delivered a petition to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection that, among other proposals, wants the country to ratify ILO Convention No 189 on decent work for domestic workers. Kenya is one of the countries that have not ratified ILO Convention 189.

“Failure to ratify important global conventions such as C189 continues to predispose our workers, especially the women and girls who survive through domestic work as their only livelihood, to great abuse and exploitation both at home and abroad,” said Ms Murogo.

The domestic workers are also pushing for the ratification of ILO Convention NO 190, which protects all women from sexual violence in the workplace and the implementation of the recommendations of the parliamentary enquiry into the mistreatment of Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.

They are also rooting for the formation of a domestic workers’ council that will purely be dealing with the welfare of domestic workers and the review of the Migrant Homecare Curriculum so that it is customised to train domestic workers for the local market.

They are also pushing for International Domestic Workers Day to be celebrated as a national day annually.

Irene Muraguri from the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) revealed the country currently boasts of 117 colleges that are training domestic workers for the export market. She said so far, 184,990 domestic workers have been trained.

“Our appeal to the domestic workers is that they take their jobs seriously and always do their job diligently whenever they are. We are also putting measures in place to ensure that local domestic workers get proper training.”


Ruth Mailu from National Employment Authority (NEA) noted domestic workers are a key component of the economy as they contribute directly to the gross domestic product (GDP). He said the agency is working with other government agencies to ensure Kenyans working abroad as domestic workers are protected and safe.

“We are currently in the process of coming up with a rehabilitation centre for returnees to train and guide domestic workers on how best to utilise and invest their savings. We are also working together with other players to ensure ILO Convention 189 and Convention 190 are implemented,” she said.

Mr Kipkoech Arap Kigen, senior deputy director at the Ministry of Labour, said the government is working with Gulf and Middle East countries to iron out challenges facing Kenyan domestic workers.

“The Ministry of Labour is normally very concerned about reports of domestic workers being abused and violated abroad and is committed to ending the menace. To our domestic workers, when you go to work abroad, please, be humble and do not allow your rights to be violated. Be good ambassadors of your country by following the laws of the land where you are working,” said Mr Kigen.

He said plans are underway to establish the Migrants Policy and Domestic Workers Council to enhance the welfare of Kenyans working abroad, adding that the government is also coming up with a diaspora fund, with domestic workers being among the targeted beneficiaries.

Bargaining power

Elizabeth Gitau from the Domestic Professional Association of Kenya tipped domestic workers to have some professional training and skills to increase their bargaining power in the job market.

“Many domestic workers are being taken care of by employers as they lack the requisite bargaining power, which include having some formal training and skills. It is important for employers to see domestic workers as people coming to add value in their lives and families.”

Ms Gitau emphasized the need for domestic workers to undergo financial literacy training and inclusion so that they can be taught how to manage their wages.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are about 75.6 million domestic workers globally. Kenya, has over two million domestic workers; there has, however, not been any national census to establish the actual number.

Since 2019, Kenya has been training 7,000 domestic workers every month for the export market, especially for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia, where Kenya has bilateral agreements for unskilled labour.