Nairobi women: 'We're earning more than our husbands, it's not been easy'

As the cost of living continues to rise, more women are increasingly taking up breadwinner roles in their families. [Courtesy]

Fifty-year-old Calen Misiani, a resident of Lang’ata in Nairobi, has, for nearly eight years now, been the breadwinner of her family.

The banker’s salary is everything. From her children’s school fees to food and health expenses, Misiani’s income foots all.

She is married, but her husband has been out of active employment since 2014.

“I got married to my spouse when I was 24 years old. At the time, he was formally employed and was earning a decent income. Through his salary, he managed to buy the house in Lang’ata, where we are currently living,” Misiani, a mother of four, told The Standard.

“My husband, who was in the human resources field, was hardworking and a provider par excellence. He took care of all the bills,” she added.

The mother-of-four says that at the time she could survive on being a housewife.

However, in 2014, she was taken back to the drawing board, when her husband’s health began deteriorating.

“He was diagnosed with diabetes. He, thereafter, suffered a stroke, which affected the left part of his body,” said Misiani.

Her spouse, a human resources practitioner, would later be relieved of his duties.

“It dawned on me then that I would be the family’s breadwinner,” she said.

Misiani applied for jobs, and after seven months of hunting for employment, she was lucky to land a receptionist position at an insurance company in Nairobi.

“It wasn’t paying much, but I felt relieved because I knew there would be a consistent income, which would help me support my family.”

Despite being the sole breadwinner, Misiani said her spouse was not happy with her employment.

“I think he was feeling insecure and hapless by the sudden change of roles,” she said.

“Most times, he threatened to throw me out of the house, saying he acquired the property using his funds. My friends and relatives have asked me to leave the marriage, but I can’t. I’m optimistic that at the end of the day, I’ll look back and say it was worth staying in the union,” she said.

Misiani has risen through the ranks, and is now a bank teller in Upper Hill, Nairobi, and has a significantly higher monthly salary.

“Despite being the sole income earner in the family, I’d give it to my husband for not resorting to violence during our disagreements,” she said.

Some 25 kilometres away, we meet 40-year-old Christine Taka, who, like Misiani, is also the top earner in her family.

“I got married at the age of 19. My husband was against me getting employed. He’d say that he was more than able to take care of the children and I,” Taka said.

The mother-of-five says that she secretly approached a neighbour who had a tailoring stall, and asked if she could help her in the tailoring work.

“The neighbour accepted my request, and that was how I learnt sewing and designing clothes for sale.”

Today, Taka is self-employed, and she earns much more than her husband, who closed his business in 2018.

“Through the money that I get from the tailoring business, I’ve been able to look after my husband and our five children,” said Taka.

The 40-year-old says she is happy that her husband, though unemployed, has been supportive.

“At home, he helps with other responsibilities such as looking after the children and helping them do their homework. It’s not easy being the only one who shoulders provision needs,” she said.

Joyce Onyancha, a resident of Ngong, said she’s been married for 15 years.

“I’m a primary school teacher, and my husband is a preacher. Over the years, we’ve been splitting the family bills. However, the burden fell heavier on me when my spouse left home a few years ago in pursuit of further studies.

“Since then, I’ve been the sole provider for our two children,” said the 35-year-old.

Onyancha says she is hopeful that her husband, whom she’s been keeping in touch with, will return home soon and help in footing some of the bills such as rent and school fees.

30-year-old Letishia Ndisio, a resident of Buruburu, lives with her 28-year-old boyfriend.

Ndisio foots all bills in the house, including rent.

“I met my boyfriend at Egerton University during our undergraduate studies. We both graduated from the institution in 2018,” said Ndisio.

“Unlike me, he wasn’t lucky to get a job immediately after graduating from college. Today, I work as a call centre representative, and it’s through my salary that we offset all the expenses,” she added.

Ndisio says that her Sh20,000 monthly salary is insufficient to satisfactorily meet all their needs.

“We got a baby girl in 2022, and it has become even tougher. We’re hopeful that my partner will get a job to help alleviate the hardship we are currently facing,” she said.