Ruth Mumbi, Human Rights, and the Dhobi of Kenya

Ruth Mumbi (Visiting Fellow) Centre for Applied Human Rights University of York
Ruth Mumbi (Visiting Fellow)
Centre for Applied Human Rights
University of York

The gasp that escaped from the audience in response to the image projected before them was proof that Ruth Mumbi, angry tears shining in her eyes, had succeeded in driving home the reality of her message and cause – a reality worlds apart from that of those privileged enough to have attended Ruth’s talk last Friday on the 17th of October. Ruth herself was the subject of the photo and in it she was being dragged up by three police into the back of a truck.

She didn’t so much as blink when she proceeded to mention that she had experienced physical abuse during her time spent in police custody. According to Ruth, she was one of the lucky ones. Having developed a profile as a Human Rights Defender (HRD) many NGOs and other organisations were willing to post her bail. Those beginning to tread down the road of fighting for human rights in Kenya, those without a profile or history, are unlikely to have their bail posted for them. The police had seized Ruth on suspicion of her organising an illegal assembly in protest against a 16% tax increase on commodities (more details to be found here).

Ruth is currently a visiting fellow at the University of York, and is being hosted by the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR). At the focal point of her talk here at York was the organisation Wamama wa Dhobi that she has been part of organising in order to address the maltreatment of informal domestic workers living in Mathare, an informal settlement outside of Nairobi. The troubles of these domestic workers has risen as a result of a stipulation in Kenyan law which recognises only those domestic workers who live with the family they work for. These women, known as Dhobi (which means ‘laundry’ in Swahili), are frequently exploited by their employees who offer them a below minimum wage and then assert the right not to pay the women if they have found their work for the day to be unsatisfactory. Instances of physical abuse and rape are not uncommon. Continue reading

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