Kenya: Judge Rules That Household Labor Is Still Labor—Here’s What That Means for Stay-at-Home Moms

Domestic duties fall largely on mothers who work hard to take care of families. Paying them what they’re worth would change the game.

By A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez January 12, 2022

The work of motherhood is often invisible, and is rarely seen as the intensive full-time job that it is. Especially during the pandemic, mothers have had to navigate a never-ending list of domestic duties— like remote learning schedules and bottomless piles of dishes and clothing — while contending with the pain of isolation and remote work.

Mothers and other primary caretakers know that caretaking is work, even as the world is slow to admit it. A recent divorce ruling in Kenya compensated a woman for her domestic labor in her marriage, acknowledging that housework is work and prompting a necessary conversation about the value of domestic duties.

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Mary Wambui, a Kenyan woman who was married for 13 years, was recently granted half of her marital home because of the domestic labor she did to maintain it. “When I saw the ruling, I was very happy and relieved,” says the mother of three and grandmother. “I felt that my youthful days did not go in vain.”

The landmark case is the first implementation of the 2013 Matrimonial Property Act, which sought to end centuries of gender discrimnation in marriage. The act protects married women by defining contributions in monetary and non-monetary terms that include childcare, home management and other forms of domestic labor.

Wambui’s concerns about having lost years to motherhood are echoed by mothers across the world. Even with important wins like these, the global community is slow to value the efforts necessary to raise a family, which fall largely on mothers. 

The verdict represents a crucial shift in the legal system in Kenya and other African countries towards gender equality. It  is also a reminder that domestic labor and parenting, especially “mother work” is devalued around the world. 

Even in the United States, where conversations about spousal support and community property are commonplace, this remains true. If we valued domestic work, we ensure all parents, especially mothers, had access to paid parental leave. The United States is one of the richest nations in the world without guaranteed parental leave and even employers that do offer parental leave packages are slow to expand support to fathers, adoptive parents, and parents using a surrogate.