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A new law passed last month will improve wages and working conditions for Kenya’s domestic workers, many of whom are housemaids. The housemaids welcome the law, but employers say they won’t be able to afford house help anymore.

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NAIROBI, KENYA – Jane Akinyi, 32, locks her small shack in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, and swiftly makes her way through the narrow streets to join a file of women walking to South C, a middle-class suburb located in the south of the city, where they do housework.

It is a chilly morning, typical of the July weather here. But Akinyi says that after making the same journey every day for eight years, she is used to the cold.

“I have to be at work before 6 o’clock in the morning to prepare breakfast for my employers,” she says, quickening her steps.

Although she can get to work faster by hopping onto a bus, Akinyi says her salary is not enough to pay her bus fare and sustain her family. The single mother of three earns 4,200 shillings, $47 USD, per month.

Most of the women in the group are in their early 20s. They chat noisily as they cover the five-kilometer stretch to the suburb. The group grows thin as the women enter the suburb and finally melts away when they disappear into various homes to start the day’s work.

Like most of the domestic workers, Akinyi is employed on a casual basis, meaning the employer largely determines the terms of employment – including salary, time off and medical insurance. Some say they are sexually and physically abused.

Akinyi says she works until 7 p.m. – a more than 13-hour shift. Sometimes her employer arrives home late, though, so she isn’t able to leave until 8 p.m. She then has to walk home.

But she says her situation should improve once the government enforces a new law that requires employers to give domestic workers – who are mostly housemaids – a contract stipulating and improving the terms and conditions of their employment.

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