Why do we deny others a basic life?
2019-06-01 15:52:36 -

By Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker


The Hidden Lives of Housegirls in Kenya’ is the title of a recent BBC documentary that caught my eye on YouTube. Everything in it was familiar to me. However, I always find real-life depictions of places I have never been to as an opportunity to learn something about the experiences of the people there. And Kenya remains one of the destinations on my wishlist for many reasons, but mainly because one of my closest friends is Kenyan.


The documentary revealed journeys that young Ugandans make to Kenya to find employment. It also showed the basic accommodation they initially stay in, with other equally young women, in informal settlements around Nairobi while looking for work.


It also touched on irregular migration and the process and costs of getting travel documents which clearly, when one lacks basics, isn’t really a priority. Even if it was said there’s freedom of movement between Kenya and Uganda, we all know that getting a passport costs a lot of money and that it also needs other documents to be in order. If for, example, one didn’t have all the required papers in place and felt that getting all that in order could take months, when they struggle to survive right now and know an informal route into a neighbouring country and someone who could possibly get them employment quickly, I can see how it happens.


I could also see the push factors in these young women’s villages. We all, as humans, want nothing but a safe and decent life. And from a young age, particularly those who grow up with very little at home, the goal and motivation for doing anything in life is finding a better way to live.


While all I saw in that documentary was young people doing whatever they could to find opportunities, apparently that doesn’t sit well with Kenyan domestic workers who feel that employers prefer Ugandans over them, because they accept lower rates of pay. There is some truth there, in that some employers will always strive to pay as little as they can for the most work. But everyone has to survive. I don’t think those young women are taking lower pay because they want to; I don’t think anyone would want that. But often there is no other option, and exploitative employers know that and will milk it to the last drop.


The documentary also covered abuses that some workers face at the hands of their employers, and the bravery some have put on to accept help from an organisation featured that supports domestic workers in need of such help.


The ongoing labour court cases were also portrayed, and it was heartwarming to see that some of the young women supported through the labour courts had an opportunity to get into vocational courses. One young woman was also supported during a deportation process so she would get back to education on return in Uganda, something she had always wanted to do, and we can only hope it will be a success.


When I think of inequality that leaves some people not being able to live even a basic life, I’m left so disheartened that some others can be so up in arms about people from other, less well-off walks of life who are looking for just the same things as them: to eat, to afford school fees for children, to buy clothes once in a while, or even afford a mobile phone. How are all these things bad for others to have, the same way we need them?


Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

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