It is a sunny Wednesday afternoon and Jane (not her real name) gets back home after a daylong cleaning job in the neighbourhood.
Jane who lives in Nyalenda’s Soko Mjinga area is a ‘Mama Fua’.
‘Mama Fua’ is a local Swahili slang used to refer to people providing independent cleaning services in homes.
While house helps either stay with their employers, or work in a particular home, Mama Fuas only get contracted when there is some cleaning job, and can move from house to house providing their services.
Jane has been doing this work for the past three years after quitting a house help job.
“The pay (for house help) was not that good but the scope of work kept on expanding, and my family was growing, hence more demands, so I had to quit,” she said.
Jane, a resident of Soko Mjinga, in Nyalenda is one of the many Mama Fuas who in Kisumu slums who have come up to share cases of frustrations in the hands of their employers.
On this particular day, Jane is meeting several other colleagues in the trade to chat a way forward.
“From sexual harassment to low pay, it is increasingly becoming unbearable,” she says.
Jane has been a victim of this vice, not one, not twice, but severally.
According to Jane, one morning she was invited by a male employer to help clean his house.
“So everything was fine until it was time to get my pay. The man begun to touch me inappropriately and demanded that I give in to his advances,” says Jane.
“I told him I was married, and what his advances were unwarranted. He could not listen, and I threatened to raise an alarm.”
From sexual harassment to low pay, it is increasingly becoming unbearableJane
Jane says it was this threat that made the man calm down, and hand her the pay.
In another instance, she says a male client made advances, and when she resisted and became wild, the man threatened to have her arrested.
“He told me he was so connected and would trump up charges of theft. I had to leave without the pay,” she said.
In the neighbouring Ring Road, still in Nyalenda is 28-year-old Maurine (not her real name).
Husbands in the dark
Maurine has been a Mama Fua for the past eight years.
And just like Jane, she has also experienced numerous cases of sexual harassment in the course of her work.
“It was so rampant when I began this job. Men would take advantage of your situation, and try to push you that direction. If you resist, they threaten you,” she says.
She says she once abandoned work after a man tried to grab her in an unpleasant manner.
“I just left his house and returned home,” said the mother of three.
But there are situations where she had to stand her ground, and tell the perpetrators straight into their eyes against the act.
Many of us fear reporting to police, as it would be difficult to prove the harassment, while the clients also threaten us with connections,Marion
For three years now, Marion (not her real name), a resident of Manyatta has been doing this job.
And just like her colleagues, she has also been a victim of the same.
“I first worked as a house help, before quitting, and then venturing into Mama Fua job,” she said.
She says apart from sexual advances; some men use abusive language towards them.
“One time a client gave me cloths to clean, and among the cloths were inner pants. So when I asked him to allow me not to wash the pants, he hurled unprintable insults at me,” she said.
In all the instances enumerated by the trio, they never reported to any authorities.
They however choose to share their predicaments among themselves, and move on.
“Many of us fear reporting to police, as it would be difficult to prove the harassment, while the clients also threaten us with connections,” said Marion.
“We even fear sharing with our husbands because we fear the reaction such an issue would elicit,” she adds.
Use of dialogue
Jescah Ochieng, a community worker in the area has been walking the victims through counseling.
She says many of the women are not ready to disclose their predicaments due to stigma.
“Some of them say they would be ashamed if they come out to speak openly, while some fear the consequences of speaking up,” she says.
We have been pushing for dialogue through various forums to discuss these issues and come up with local remediesJescah Ochieng
Ms Ochieng has however been providing a platform for the women to allow them share their stories among themselves, and encourage one another on how to deal with the situation.
She however says there is need to regularize the trade, by building a union that would champion for the rights of Mama Fuas.
“We have been pushing for dialogue through various forums to discuss these issues and come up with local remedies,” said Ms Ochieng who is the Deputy Chair of Nyalenda Mama Safi Bunge.