The occupational hazards of doing laundry for a living in Nairobi
Women who do laundry in Nairobi estates – commonly referred to us mama fuas – have in recent times been increasingly exposed to occupational hazards, ranging from assault, rape and death in houses where they seek their daily wages.
Some of the women based in South C and South B estates narrated their horrific encounters with employers, some of which were reported to the police but with no action taken.
“It’s a dangerous job, sometimes you do not know the kind of person you are going to work for. You see, once you get into these compounds and the gate is closed they can do anything. There was a time my friend escaped and came to the gate with a torn dress after a customer attempted to rape her,” one laundry woman, who spoke to Nairobi News in confidence, narrated.
Other employers sometimes pry on naïve women who are new to the job, although the older women often offer protection to the younger ones.
“Here there are some young women who are new and they sometimes do not know the dangers of this work. They rush towards the big cars when customers park near our base asking for mama fuas. We have marked some of these clients as evil people who will either not pay you or even assault. So we keep warning our colleagues when we spot such clients,” another woman explained.
They describe their jobs as dangerous and that they are often not protected by the police even when they report injustices.
“I have been turned away from the police station without my statement being recorded as police said I was lying about my boss not paying me,” yet another woman says.
“Nowadays I do not even bother reporting, when I encounter a difficult client I just leave peacefully and tell them to call me when they are willing to pay of which some feel guilty and send the money while others refuse to pay,” she further says.
To make matters worse, some of these mama fuas have previously been arrested and charged with stealing.
“I was once taken to Akila Police Station by a customer who said I stole Sh10,000 from her handbag. I tried telling the police I did not do it and even told them to search me but they locked me up. My family had to raise the money to pay the woman who I had already washed clothes for and did not pay me,” one mama fua told Nairobi News.
On January 29, a mama fua was found dead just metres away from her employer’s house in Diamond Estate, South B.
The mother of two had landed a full month contract that ran through December and was renewed in January.
Hours before her body was discovered, she had requested her employer for her monthly salary but was asked to wait till January 30.
She left her employer’s house and walked to her house in Mukuru Kayaba but on arrival her employer called to let her know she had her salary and would only pay her if she came that evening.
She reportedly notified her neighbour to watch over her two children as she needed to collect her salary.
The mother never came back that evening and in the morning when her colleagues reported to work they found her lifeless body leaning on a tree trunk with a loose rope on her neck.
The incident remains unresolved months after it occurred with her colleagues claiming that the employer who was the last person to be in contact with the woman was not arrested for questioning.