Tracing the Rights of Domestic and International Kenyan House Helps: Profiles, Policy, and Consequences

Tracing the Rights of Domestic and International Kenyan House Helps: Profiles, Policy, and Consequences

Dorothy Owino Rombo (State University of New York, USA) and Anne Namatsi Lutomia (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3018-3.ch001
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This chapter traces a history of domestic workers both within, and to a lesser degree without, Kenya. Reading from international policy platforms—including the United Nations and various international non-governmental organizations—as well as academic research, Kenyan government policy documents, and online sources like blogs and periodicals that reveal this history and frame content addressing domestic workers, the authors develop an image of the situation of domestic work in Kenya. We identified missing protections of rights and made other policy recommendations in light of that situation. Using intersectionality to disclose how the different identities of gender, class, socioeconomic status, and ethnic identification (socially imposed or individually emphasized) of domestic workers in Kenya simultaneously clash and collude, workers nonetheless remain embedded within layers of marginalization that make the very circumstance of their work more challenging for upholding the human rights of these employees. By calling attention to the destiny of migrant domestic workers in comparison to local Kenyan domestics and linking to the present international push to protect migrant domestic workers, then, not only discloses but also hints at how the needs and interests of domestic Kenyan workers may be better met, respected, and protected. It suggests future work as well aimed at prompting an acknowledgment of, and policy changes with respect to, the basic human rights of other subaltern populations.
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To begin most broadly, the International Labor Organization (ILO) through its member states has identified the key players, along with their roles and shortcomings, with respect to domestic workers, while also advancing policies to protect those workers. This approach, rooted a human rights framework, calls for fair treatment of domestic workers that also upholds their human dignity in every circumstance. More narrowly, the frameworks that Arthur (2009) and Fleury (2016) have explored around the rationales and impacts of migration specifically on women serve to illuminate migrant domestic workers as well. To be sure, while socioeconomic trends have feminized domestic work post-colonially, and while the identities of these workers have equally played a key a role in shaping the experiences of domestic workers, to frame and understand those identities non-intersectionally loses too much explanatory force. Moreover, intersectionality helps to disclose reasons for why domestic workers remain vulnerable despite ILO’s (2013) otherwise correctly oriented human rights policymaking.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Domestic Work: Menial tasks such as cleaning, ironing and cooking that is carried out by domestic workers, maids and cleaners.

Intersectionality: Scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw definition of the superimposing and relatedness of social identities, privileges and oppression.

Migrant: A person who moves to live in another country to seek a better life, work or security.

Middle East: These are mostly Arab speaking nations including Israel, Turkey and Cyprus. In this chapter Middle East implies Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

The Gulf Countries: These are seven countries which border the Persian Gulf namely Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Recruiting Bureaus: Also known as agents these are middlemen who find job, passports, airfare, and provide information for domestic workers while linking them to families in the Middle East.

Returnees: A domestic worker who returns home to settle after working in another country for a longtime.

Khafala: The practice of Middle Eastern employers to sponsor foreign workers that leads to binding employees to employers. The Khafala system has been criticized for its slave-like conditions.

Kenya: An East African country known for its runners boarded by Uganda, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Somali, Tanzania and the Indian Ocean.

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