Living on Sh50 a day, life can only get tougher for these women

A Kenyan labour activist in attire with a message over the economic situation in Kenya on May 1, 2011. PHOTO/TOM MARUKO

As the world celebrated Labour Day on Sunday, a large group of Kenyans is struggling to survive hard economic times caused by inflation and diminishing incomes.

To some Kenyans, living on less than a dollar a day may seem impossible, but this it exactly what a majority are doing.

Mother of two Agnes Acali gets to her place of work by 8am, and notwithstanding the hot sun and a year-old child on her back, she struggles to make ends meet, sometimes without hope, that the ballast she grinds would be bought.

Together with her friend, Ms Gladys Muthoni, they are casual labourers at Nyaribo quarry in Nyeri County, where they crush ballast for sale.

It takes a month for them to fill a lorry, after which they each get Sh1,500, translating to Sh50 a day.

“Even when I get this Sh1,500, I just use it for two days and it is over,” said Ms Acali.

In addition to buying food and fuel, she stays in a rented house, for which she pays Sh400 every month.

On her part, 23-year-old Muthoni finds it extremely hard to cope as she has to feed her two young children single-handedly.

The only source of livelihood the two women have is the quarry. According to Ms Acali, women breadwinners with meagre income are the most affected by the hard times.

A single mother of seven, and a casual labourer at the same quarry, Ms Jane Ngima, highlighted the depressing situation the increased cost of living has imposed on her in.

“The money I get is very little and it cannot cover all the needs at home,” she said.

She earns an average of Sh180 a day, which is carefully budgeted for. She buys fuel worth Sh90, and the 1 kilo of flour at Sh45.

Ms Ngima spends the whole day digging the ground from where miners at the quarry cut building stones for sale.

A mother of four and a casual labourer in Nyeri, Ms Anne Kalewa, earns Sh150 a day, but sometimes she goes without it if there is no work forthcoming.

The resident at Kiawara slum spends Sh400 every month on rent and at least Sh80 on kerosene every day. She pays more than Sh10,000 school fees for her Form Three daughter.

Life for Ms Kalewa is getting harder by the day; this has driven her to adopt the ‘Kadogo budget’ doing her shopping precisely and in small quantities, to get essential commodities at her disposal.

Minimal wages, poor working conditions, soaring commodity prices and long working hours are factors that have painted gloom in the lives of these women.

These women may not benefit from minimum wage increment advocated by the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and neither do they expect their working conditions to change, but they asked the government to moderate commodity prices for the sake of their children.