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Domestic Responsibilities

The survey investigated the organization and time allocation of daily activities and the division of labour within the household by gender and age, and attempted to assess changes that had taken place in the households over the past ten years.

As the organization of household hours and tasks was inevitably linked to plantation activities, domestic duties had to be organized around the plantation work, which had assumed a central position in the lives of the workers. This represented a major shift from the focus of the household as the centre of society that prevailed in the pre-colonial era, even in contemporary rural areas.

In order to fit in the essential household activities, the women, whether married or unmarried, had "to make the day longer" by getting up very early, often as early as 4 a.m. Breakfast and lunch had to be cooked and child care organized in the early morning before setting off for work on the plantation. Half the domestic chores were done before 6.30 in the morning. The other half were done after four in the afternoon or even later during the peak picking season. The day was made to stretch until eleven at night in order to fit everything in. The best hours were devoted to plantation work; household responsibilities were relegated to the periphery of the workers' lives. The women, especially those with young children, were badly affected by this 15- to 18-hour day.

Of course the male respondents did not have this problem, as their wives took the burden of housework upon themselves. The married men whose wives lived with them devoted their time to themselves before going to work at 7 a. m. They went to bed earlier and got up later than the employed women respondents. Here, as in the peri-urban sector, the non-employed wives of working men had begun to acquire the characteristics of a Western housewife. Their task was to care for the children and the house, a much narrower role than that of their rural counterparts. The pattern of the single men's lives was observed to be closer to that of the women, in both the similarity and timing of domestic tasks. The phenomenon of a man living alone, apart from his family, was a legacy of colonialism particularly evident among the migrants on the plantations.

Questions about assistance with household tasks inevitably raised gender and age issues. Men who lived with their wives believed they had the option to help or not. When they did assist, which was indeed rare, they chose the type of tasks they did. Work in the household increased with the number of small children. However, the workload was lightened as they got older, especially when they were girls. Preadolescent children helped in the house, assuming responsibilities sometimes more on the basis of age than gender. The children's help ranged from small tasks like washing their own dishes to minding younger siblings all day or taking full charge of the household. However, as time went on the boys rebelled against this, and older boys asserted that they were above such duties, pointing to the traditional patriarchal division of labour by gender as their justification. In the female-headed households, adolescent and older boys began to assume the role of household head. Some female heads of household said the responsibility was too much for one parent. Others declared that the absence of a husband was a blessing, as there was no man in the house to disrupt household work with demands for attention. Some of the female respondents liked the peace in the house when there was no husband there.

Many respondents regarded household activities as work because of the time and energy involved, but others perceived it as necessary to life and not wage-earning and therefore "non-work." In any case, the hours suggested that household activities should be taken into account when labour is being quantified.

Sickness was a great risk or threat to the employed woman with children. Should she fall sick, the organization of her household would disintegrate. When others were ill she had to look after them, draining her time and energy to carry out all her other duties. The married men said they had no difficulties here, since the household was the wife's sphere and therefore it was her responsibility to care for the sick. Maternity leave was cited as a recent new benefit for women. Permanent employees on the coffee plantation got two months with pay, but casuals got nothing. Some of the permanent workers said that the two months were inadequate and they would prefer to be able to take as long as they deemed necessary, like the casual workers. However, the casual employees envied the security of tenure which the others had. One respondent had lost her permanent status because she refused to go back to work after two months, preferring to take care of her infant twins. Her next birth was also twins, whom she took time to breast-feed. She was married and had the back-up of her husband's wages; had she been the head of the household, she would not have had any alternative but to conform to regulations.

In the tea region maternity leave ranged from 23 to 90 days. However, there were discrepancies in payment: some respondents stated that they were given full pay, but others declared that only half of their wages were paid to them during maternity leave, while yet others said that they received no wages at all during this time. There was a similar confusion about maternity expenses, which could be financed by the worker, the employer, the welfare club, or the union. As with other employed women, the length of maternity leave and financial security during it could have a significant impact on the health of the baby and the mother, as well as on her decision to have more children.

Babies were breast-fed surreptitiously in the workplace; no time was officially allowed for this essential activity. The health of the infant was thus jeopardized by exposure to extreme temperatures, inclement weather, and pesticides. Some of the respondents said that women who attended to their children in the field risked being fired. Others said that some supervisors were willing to look the other way when mothers took breaks to see to their children. Older siblings sometimes had to leave school to look after the younger ones. The traditional support systems were not available for the plantation workers, although some did turn to their rural extended families for help. Sick leave, leave to care for children who were ill, and compassionate Ieave were all granted without pay, so income stopped when the worker needed it most. Mothers and female heads of household were particularly vulnerable.

On Nyakinyua, the company provided free nursery schooling, a policy as commendable as it was rare, since many other plantations did not provide any educational facilities. The children were not necessarily sent to nursery schools to learn, but they were considered an important alternative form of early child care for employed mothers. Many respondents sent their children to nursery school when they were three years old "since there is no one else to mind her" and it was better for the children to spend the day there rather than locked up in the house or unsupervised on the plantation.

The absence of an extended family to help with child care presented real problems to the working mothers. As most had come to the plantations expressly to seek employment and as the management declared its reliance on female workers as a stable workforce, the provision of child care would have seemed logical. As it was, many respondents had one person and, in a few cases, two adults, in the camp to whom they could entrust their children for an extended period.

The women, children, and a few of the men said alienation from the children was the major problem when it came to the division of time between the household and the plantation. This was expressed in various ways by different respondents, but it was always a matter of strong feelings. Lack of time to care for children, especially when they were ill, inadequate time for food preparation, older children having to take responsibility for younger siblings, and young children having to stay on their own the whole day were frequent complaints. Although the unit of production and the unit of reproduction were interdependent, their physical separation created stress and difficulties which exacerbated the problems arising from the traditional division of labour within the household.

As any stimuli that affect any part of a unit can have an impact on all the other components, the exploitation of the workers also imposed strains on the children, who had to aid household adjustment by contributing to work in an attempt to ease the burdens of their mothers; the plantations thus benefit indirectly from their labour. Yet the presence of children gave comfort and cohesion to parents, who in spite of the wretchedness of their own lives were not generally so pessimistic about their children's future.

Conditions on the plantation may actually hamper intellectual development. The children's progress and promotion in school was slow. They were often quite old for their class: there were some who were finishing primary school in their late teens. Most children dropped out after primary school because their parents could not afford secondary education for them. This usually meant that they then remained dependent on their families.

There was a unique though slight generation gap on the plantation: it was difficult to find young people between 18 and 24. The company was said to take advantage of the slightest reason to throw them out of the camps. Apart from this, they became a burden on the household and were encouraged to get jobs in other places at an early age.

There were marked strains between the young and the old. The whole situation was confusing, but what seemed to be spontaneous eruptions of tensions may have been sparked off by economic stress. The fact that parents did not control the means of production, were illiterate or semi-literate, and were themselves exploited eroded their authority over their children. They saw the children as indolent, cheeky and difficult to control, and lacking respect for the old. This lack of respect reflected the loss of communal traditions that emphasized the wisdom and philosophy of the elders. To the older cohort, there seemed to be a breakdown of values as young men cohabited with or married older women. Some workers perceived themselves as a generation isolated in an unmanageable environment over which they had no control. The young were full of enthusiasm and energy and hope for a better life.

There was general consensus that there had been great changes in the relationships between children and parents, though no group of respondents stood out as representing a majority view of the precise nature of the change. The responses were evenly divided between various opinions, such as: parents were freer with children; parents were not strict with children; parents wanted more education for their children; parents were unable to control their children; parents educated their daughters more nowadays; children spent more time studying; parents spent less time with their children; and children were more educated than their parents. Of course, it should be noted that many of these behavioural changes are common to other groups in contemporary Kenya.

The issue of changing attitudes to male and female roles elicited an array of responses which indeed reflect changes. These ranged from seeing boys and girls as equal in the home; acknowledging that equality between men and women is possible because they perform the same jobs on the plantation and earn equal money; to "women have their roles and position cut out for them by God and cannot in any way change this as even God himself is also a man." Gender discrimination was even more constant and manifest in the division of household labour than in technical employment and factory work. However, it was more than a question of psychological insensitivity or low levels of consciousness within households. It was also one of deep and long-standing exploitation.

Migration, Employment, and Income

The plantations were dependent on migration. Their workers could be divided into three categories of origin: those who were born on the plantation; those who were born in the same province and therefore did not have to go far to join the plantation labour force; and those who were born in other provinces and had to move long distances to either the tea or coffee plantations. Three of the country's seven provinces - Nyanza, Central, and Western - provide nearly all the plantation workforce. None of the respondents came from the eighth province, which is Nairobi.

The non-migrant workers in the first category were second- or third-generation plantation workers. These respondents said their forbears had been affected by the land policies of the colonial government, which had simultaneousIy created huge plantation areas on the one hand and a landless population on the other. This group included young and old, women and men; there were more of them in the coffee region than on the lea plantations.

The workers in the second category had migrated because they had no land. Here there was also a gender component, as this group included many of the female heads of households who had been driven from Central Province by the patriarchal inheritance system. The men had been the victims of land alienation. In the Western region, there were some respondents who had migrated because of poor, unproductive soil. Some migrants still had small pieces of land where their extended family lived and there were others who had managed, after years of labour, to purchase a small plot. Most were destined to be the parents of second-generation plantation workers.

The third category consisted of those who had come from other provinces, mainly to sell their labour in order to supplement their family income in other rural areas. This represented a pattern which has persisted since the colonial era. The men in this group had little in the way of land or resources at home. The women were pushed there by the combination of land poverty and patrilineal disinheritance by fathers or husbands. It is this last factor which has led to one of the most profound changes in Kenyan households, the female-headed household, which was as visible on the plantation as in urban centres large and small.

The patterns of migration tended to differ between the men and the women in categories two and three. The men generally left their home or place of origin in search of employment, a practice which they continued. Some of the women left home to join the workforce, but the majority passed through one or more marriages before they got to the plantation. Some were wives who followed husbands who had already migrated to the plantations, but many others came to the plantation as a refuge from broken marriages and husbands who no longer wanted them. Some who had not been married sought employment and a place to live with their children. Most respondents came to the plantation because they had no resources and hoped to meet their economic needs by joining the workforce there. Some had migrated to escape a criminal past, family disputes, the ill-will of neighbours, or witchcraft. A few had come in an attempt to leave or forget a tragic past. However, land problems were the major impetus for migration.

Some of the respondents, most of them male, had passed through a number of other plantations, or held various kinds of unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in small towns and cities. Once the women found a job and a home for their family they were inclined to settle permanently on the plantation and were therefore recognized by the management as the more stable part of the workforce. The men moved in and out more freely, untethered by immediate family responsibilities. Women usually had nowhere else to go. The plantation offered these landless heads of households a livelihood and a place to stay and the employers benefited from their lack of choice.

When asked where they would go if their present job were suddenly terminated, many of the women said they would look for a job on another plantation. Few of those in the coffee region saw any possibility of returning to the rural areas. Though some had extended family there, they said it would be "impossible" to go and live with them, since land and money were so scarce. Besides, their patrilineal cultures forbade the women to return to their natal home with children, especially male children. Most of these respondents had no land themselves, apart from the few who had managed to buy an acre or two on which they hoped to build if they could save enough for the building materials.

Most respondents had no intention of working on the plantation for the rest of their lives. The plantation, like the city, was seen as a temporary place to work and live, where conditions were so difficult that they were comparable to slavery. Those who said they would stay there made it obvious that this was because they had no alternatives. All except a handful declared that working on a plantation was a miserable life, oppressive and exploitative. The workload was too heavy and the pay too little even to cover basic needs. The few whose views were less negative simply said their jobs gave them some income.

Aspirations for their children were unanimously oriented "away from the plantation." All the respondents wanted their children to live, in order of preference, in the rural area, in a big city, or in a small town. None of them wanted their children to live on the plantation, and some were outright in their aversion to this. The predominant hope was for land to settle down on in the country or stable employment in the towns or city. For themselves, nearly all the respondents wanted a piece of land they could call their own so they could control their working hours and reap the benefits of their own work. Some of the younger respondents were attracted to the big city. Others realized they would have nowhere else to go if they had to leave the plantation. All in all, the research revealed the plantation workers as a people who, though deracinated from their rural areas, would prefer to settle back there or in the towns. The plantation was merely a place of economic survival.

It was therefore essential to explore various factors relevant to this, including schooling and training, employment history, work schedules, and income. The educational levels of the respondents were low. Occasionally someone had advanced as far as high school, but this was indeed rare. Some (36 per cent) had no formal education at all, many had only lower primary and a few had upper primary schooling. Most of the more educated respondents had left school at unusually high ages. Many were in upper primary school in their late teens.

The same constraints which confined other Kenyans to low educational levels also operated here. These included lack of financial resources in the family (37.4 per cent), the need to work in order to support younger siblings, forced marriage, and teenage pregnancy. Many of the respondents stated that they had liked school very much, and quite a number of them had done well academically during their time there. Almost without exception they considered their education had not been completed.

Gender discrimination in educational opportunity certainly existed, though it was mostly expressed by the female respondents. Most men did not seem to perceive it. The women were often very bitter about discrimination against them as daughters and sisters. Some said that they had excelled in class and felt that given the opportunity they would have gone far. This gender bias was exacerbated by poverty, which had forced many parents to choose between which children they could put through school.

School was perceived as necessary and as a key to better job opportunities by 68.6 per cent of the sample. Yet most of them had only learnt rudimentary reading, writing, and arithmetic. The older women lacked even this basic literacy and numeracy, though some had attempted to rectify this by attending adult literacy classes. Over and over again, their limited educational background and lack of rural resources like land or cattle were given as the major factor in the respondents' decision to work on the plantation. The vast majority of them had unskilled or semi-skilled jobs.

A few respondents had picked up some skills, mainly in informal ways, in odd places here and there. Some were mechanics, some could sew. However, the vast majority, regardless of gender and age, had never had any type of training, formal or informal. Their only marketable skill was tea- or coffee-picking, which they had learnt on the job.

It was surprising to find that some of the respondents with specific skills were employed as unskilled workers. There were carpenters, cobblers, drivers, painters, bookkeepers, typists, and dressmakers who were all overqualified for picking tea leaves or coffee berries. Here the survey was inadequate, as it did not include a follow-up question on why these respondents were not employed or self-employed in the herds in which they were trained. Lack of opportunities in specific areas and the inability to raise the capital necessary to set up in self-employment may have been major constraints.

The employment histories showed gender differentiation which was consistent with the patterns of migration. Men had taken jobs earlier than the female respondents, some of whom had been married first and only joined the labour force after the marriage had broken up, often in their mid-thirties. An older cadre of female respondents had joined the workforce in their late forties and fifties after their mothering role had diminished.

Most of the respondents (61.7 per cent), regardless of gender or age, did not like their present work or would prefer any other kind of job. When they were asked about this, some of them thought the question was either ridiculous or cynical, as conditions on the plantation made the answer so obvious. Those who said they liked their jobs did so with stoical resignation. Preferences for other work ranged from unskilled jobs like office cleaner to skilled work like tailoring and mechanics. Many said that anything which was not as demanding as plantation work would be all right. Some wanted their own farms.

Questions about labour contracts aroused bitter responses, as casual workers were employed by verbal agreement and could be dismissed on the spot. Permanent employees had a written contract, but most of the respondents assumed that they were in the position of the casual employee. It was not clear how they acquired permanent status. It seemed to be based on some sort of managerial preference. There were some cases of workers who had been born on the plantation but were still working on casual terms, which kept the entire household in a precarious situation.

In the coffee region everyone felt insecure; the respondents said that if their jobs were terminated their families would starve and have no roof over their heads. This was a general anxiety with no significant difference according to gender or age. Men and women, young and old, felt forced to remain on the plantation so they could provide for the basic needs of their families. However, some of the men and married women on the tea plantations said that if they lost their jobs they would return to the rural areas where they had some land or relatives.

Responses to questions about the problems encountered in the workplace varied according to gender, age, and class. Young women generally experienced the greatest difficulties, as they struggled to balance and cope with their responsibilities as mothers, wives, wage-earners and, at times, heads of household. Whether single or married, their work left them exhausted and ill-prepared for the next day. At peak season their ability to carry out domestic work was often reduced to a minimum or even to zero. Where there were older children in the family they were sometimes put in charge of the household; occasionally husbands who had regular shift work assisted with the care of children in the evening, though the mother still had to do the heavier chores when she came home from work. The older women felt the physical strains of plantation work more and more as their strength ebbed with age. Some women said they had been victimized by supervisors to whom they refused sexual favours.

One of the central foci of this research was the interaction between the household, the unit of co-residence and reproduction, and the plantation, the unit of production. The compatibility of work schedules and domestic demands was therefore a fundamental question.

The poor living and working conditions and the inadequate wages were clear indications of the failure of collective bargaining. The Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers' Union has been a weak and incompetent guardian of the workers' interests. In sharp contrast to the active part the trade unions played in the struggle against colonialism, its current role seemed to be to pacify the workers. This was perhaps inevitable because the union officials were co-opted by the management and imposed on the workers, which meant that they lacked commitment to union ideals and obligations. There seemed to be a covert alliance between the union and the management against the workers. As one of the women said: "The trade union in the plantation is dormant and useless. They have not had cases like we hear of other unions. . . . Their major concerns have been to have workers as members and telling us to be loyal to the employer." The level of participation had actually dropped and the workers no longer understood the role of the union; most of the respondents thought it should be abolished. Some called for government intervention to revitalize the union but others saw the government as a passive observer in the struggle between labour and capital. One respondent felt there was an urgent need "to get someone who is more learned and powerful and cannot be bribed. The union leaders here are corrupt and semi-literate. The government should also give us a free forum where we can challenge these 'Boers' without intimidation at all."

The study also looked at individual wages and, where applicable, combined wages, income from informal activities, savings and expenditure, employment benefits, statutory deductions, remittances, and credit facilities. The economic base of the plantation worker was the income from her or his wages, augmented during peak season by money for extra hours worked at triple the normal rate. Yet these did not cover all their basic needs on either the tea or coffee plantations. Their food was low in quality and quantity, their children dressed in tatters, and even the very precious hope of education to provide a better life for the next generation often came to nought when they could not meet school fees. Apart from cigarettes and alcohol, there were no luxuries for the men. There were none at all for the women. In other words, their work did not even bring them those things for which they had entered the labour force.

Indeed, many respondents, men and women, had to supplement their wages by petty trading in surplus vegetables (where growing them was not forbidden in monocrop areas) or making and selling handicrafts like mats, kiondo (basket-ware), sweaters, or tablecloths. Others, like mothers with young families, had no time available for these activities and so no way to supplement their income. Those who did were asked whether or not these activities affected their jobs. The responses suggested that it was rather the excessively heavy work and long hours on the plantation that impaired their ability to attend to other things. Those who engaged in extra income-generating activities said they were often so exhausted after their plantation work that they could not see to these activities although they were essential to the household.

The extended household in the rural area also suffered, as there was little to be sent back to the wives, children, and parents there. Though respondents wanted to maintain their kinship ties and obligations, their support was gradually becoming confined to the nuclear households because their income was so meagre. Remittances to the rural areas were therefore rare.

Those remittances that were met on a regular basis revealed rural linkages which were not easily perceived at first. They also indicated new patterns of rural dependence on external economic support and a hidden extended family structure that was persisting although the respondent lived in a nuclear household on a plantation. There was a long history of male migrants sending money back to the wives and children left in the rural areas. The remittances women sent to rural extended families not only showed that they were recognized as having an economic base, however slight, of their own, but sometimes reversed old patterns of female-male dependence as they supported their mothers and even stepmothers, thus shouldering responsibilities normally assigned to their fathers and brothers. Sometimes they actually supported male relatives as well. The remittances to the rural areas often prevented the workers saving, but it was clear that they were regarded as necessary and not to be put off or ignored. Perhaps they were considered a form of social insurance and security in a precarious situation. Certainly, participation in the workforce would not provide this in old age. The workers' entitlement to be housed ended with their employment. There was said to be a pension scheme available to permanent employees, though this did not come up in the study, as workers who had retired were not included in the survey.

Economic difficulties had led to the creation of credit agencies, which were also agents of poverty. Shops, bars, butcheries, posh mills, and maize stores sold to the workers on credit and recovered the debt through the management each payday. The existing co-operative union served only the senior staff. Although the tea-pickers felt they also needed a co-operative, they lacked the necessary capital and managerial skills. In any case, it was thought that the company would probably not have allowed one to operate, as it seemed to repress any form of organization which might be used against it.

The workers lent each other money in times of crisis, and debts were a common cause of friction among the workers. Money also caused much household tension, though where the workers shared houses the major cause of dissension was always the use of personal effects without consent. The extended family still played an important role in resolving household conflicts. There were also "money sharks" on the plantation who cashed in on the squalid situation, but at an interest rate of 50 per cent the cost of loans from the private sources was prohibitive, and so this source was mainly called on only to meet heavy expenditure such as school fees or emergencies. This dependence on strangers who were not kin was creating new patterns of relationships and interdependence.

If repaying small loans to private individuals or loan sharks was difficult, borrowing from banks, government agencies, and other formal financial institutions was impossible for young and old, male and female: the workers had neither property nor sufficient security of tenure against which to borrow. Their only assured source of credit was an advance or short-term loan from their employers, church leaders, or nyaparas (supervisors).

On the coffee plantations it was rare to find other family members contributing to household income, since most of the families were nuclear and there was only one working adult. Female-headed households in particular had to survive on the one income, as did many households with very young families when the need for intensive child care prevented much informal economic activity. A couple of the female respondents said that "men friends" who came and lived with them for brief periods contributed to household income. This situation, in which the woman was the more permanent occupant of the house, was quite alien to the traditional patriarchal social system.

In most cases, even the combined income from wages, extra cash-generating activities, and contributions from other sources still did not cover essential expenditure on food, clothing, and education. It was surprisingly easy to break down monthly household expenditure, as most respondents knew how much money they spent on various items, partly because wages were paid fortnightly and partly because purchases were few, basic, and recurrent. The heavy expense of school fees was often met by borrowing. Although this was mainly for their own children, many respondents had to support brothers and sisters still in school.

Expenditure on clothing was irregular and infrequent, even for small children. Compulsory school uniforms accounted for much of this. Clothing was bought twice or thrice a year, mostly during the peak season when extra money was available. Many respondents also had to buy clothing for mothers, fathers, wives, and children in the rural areas. In the coffee region this sometimes intermittent form of remittance was one of the few manifestations of extended family exchange and maintenance.

It was impossible for many of the respondents to accumulate any savings. Those who did so in the coffee region had several alternatives for their deposits: the post office savings bank, keeping them at home, or joining a women's welfare savings group. Banks and co-operatives were beyond their reach. The amounts saved were small. Things were slightly different in the tea region, where some workers had invested in livestock to cover school fees: one respondent said that his bank was a goat and a cow. Another respondent said that she wanted to save Ksh50 (US$3.30) per month, but so far had been unable to do so.

In some cases a women's group which functioned as a savings circle had enabled some of the respondents to buy property, which they would never have been able to do otherwise. Women spoke of having purchased, or intending to purchase, a building co-operatively, either as part of a women's group or with their families. Some had plans to acquire some land either Individually or with others. This struggle to acquire an economic base collectively replicated a pattern all over the country, for consciousness of the new power of women's groups had penetrated even the plantation enclave. Though the groups were few there, their goals and achievements were similar to those in rural and pert-urban Kenya. However, those on the plantations were different in that their membership reflected the diverse ethnic origins of the plantation workers. Male respondents saved individually, when they had something to save. There was no sign of group savings among them, which also corresponds to patterns in the rural and pert-urban areas.

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