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Work at any cost ? Interrogating the domestic worker migration industry from Kenya to the Gulf States


This ethnographic research project deals with women’s labour migration from Kenya for work in domestic service in private households in the Gulf States. Migration from Kenya to the gulf states is well established and while exact numbers are unknown, it is currently estimated that there are up to 300 000 Kenyan citizens working in the Gulf States on temporary contracts (GAATW 2019). Conditions for women domestic workers are particularly harsh. Reports of physical, psychological and sexual violence are frequent (Ibid). To counter the abuses the Kenyan state has developed pre-departure training which includes information on workers’ rights, intercultural competence and technical knowhow. Pre-departure training is now made mandatory and integral to the labour migration process. Using policy analysis, interviews and observations, this project will critically map and analyse the various stakeholders (Kenyan state, NGO’s, recruitment firms, training centres, women workers and women workers’ families) and how benefits, risks and costs are managed and negotiated by the different stakeholders.


Education, Gender, Work, Gender, Work


Focusing on the domestic work migration industry the proposed project taps directly into the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals - Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) and Gender Equality (SDG 5). The research also aims to contribute to knowledge development in the area of regular and irregular migration as highlighted in the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Migration. The investigation is at the centre of FORMAS research area no 9 (Urban and Rural Areas), focusing on the Sustainability of subjects for the development of rural and urban areas.

Through history racialised women’s work have been commodified. A novelty however the global increase of the commodification of care through women’s migration to take on care and domestic work. The social organisation of the domestic care work industry is increasing globally and migration from East Africa to the Gulf States is no exception. Moreover, research has shown that migrant domestic workers enter the Gulf states through state regulated work migration as well as under conditions of irregular migration. Often the routes of domestic workers migration are difficult to overview and abuse and exploitation is common. This means that domestic worker migration industries in Kenya and globally, are operating in documented or undocumented ways which need to be further disentangled and critically analysed.

While the prosed project focus on work migration from Kenya to the Gulf states, we note that the domestic worker migration industry has a global outreach. In Sweden, migrant women represent 50% of the staff that take on domestic and care work in private households (Gavanas 2011) In this aspect, the outcome from proposed project can make a contribution for the theoretical development of the domestic worker migration industry which will be beneficiary for the academic community into the domestic worker migration industry in Kenya, Sweden and beyond.

2022 - 2024



REMESO Project Leader

Paula Mählck, Senior lecturer

Participants not from REMESO

  • Aina Tollefsseon Umeå University, Sweden
  • Marygoreti Otieno Akyini, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Contact for project


Last updated: 2022-02-23

Page responsible: erik.berggren@liu.se
Last updated: 2020-05-27