Friday, May 18, 2007

KENYA: Slum women struggle to put food on the table
Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Patricia Atieno lives in Kibera, a large slum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but spends most of her mornings looking for short-term employment as a house help elsewhere in the city. "I have been doing domestic work for a decade now; my family depends on it," she said. "In the past it was easier to find work but not any more. The employers now hire and dismiss us indiscriminately." Like Atieno, many of Nairobi's women slum dwellers are the breadwinners. "We have to work harder and move from one place to another to increase our chances of getting work," she added.

According to the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (Habitat), Nairobi's slums are overcrowded, with four to six people living in one room. The dwellings are very close to each other; services are basic, while morbidity and mortality rates are high. City authorities say more than 1.6 million (out of Nairobi's estimated population of 3.5 million) live in the slums or "informal settlements". Most live below the poverty line - earning less than US$7 a week - according to experts. The women who seek domestic work earn a meagre 200-350 Kenya shillings (US$3-5) per task. Aged between 14 and 40 years, they sit at the periphery of upmarket residential estates for up to seven hours every day hoping to be hired. Despite the uncertainties of the work they do, however, the women insist they would rather engage in traditional household chores than in "the flesh thing" (prostitution).

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