An African woman visiting the country for the first time recently had this to say about the Kenyan woman: “I find her arrogant, she talks too loudly and drinks too much. Then she added: But I admire her courage, confidence and pride. She has certainly come a long way.”
Eva Muraya: Not all Kenyan women are necessarily like the one described by the visitor, but I agree that compared to her Ugandan or Tanzanian counterparts, she does seem louder, more independent and confident.
Dr Chris Hart: This is not a unique phenomenon. The Kenyan woman’s transformation is part of a worldwide trend. Education has been a key driver of this transformation and it has helped propel the success of this woman.
Jane Karuku: The ability to achieve has always been there, even uneducated women display leadership traits.
Our grandmothers made key decisions on who went to school, when land could be sold, etc. It’s just that they did not appear to be the ones making the decisions — it was always the man’s decision.
Their confidence grew when they were left at home to fend for themselves as men went to the bush to fight the colonial masters.
Ken Ouko: The focus is no longer on a partner for child bearing purposes but a partner for economic progress.
Chris Hart: But urban women seem to be displaying this more, especially single women. The woman the visitor was talking about must be single.
Pinky Ghelani: No, married women also go out and you can find them in groups enjoying each other’s company.
I think the Kenyan woman has become extremely honest. When we want to go out we are bold enough to say so and we are honest about it. I think these other women are just not as honest.
Eva: Before you become bold, you have to be honest with yourself. Kenyan women are now in a position where they can express what is happening inside them. They have become bold after this self examination, which is good.
I know there are some who take things a bit too far but basically, I think it is because of this that many women are now able to express themselves and that scares the men a lot.
Moderator: Let’s move on: What effect has women’s ascendancy had on marriage, family life, the workplace?
Ken: There is a book I have out there in the market called Marriages Are Made In Heaven So Are Thunder And Lightning. Most of the stuff in the book is not the writer’s … most of it is a product, a result of what has been going on and in the Kenyan context two things have happened.
The Kenyan woman is not just a wife any more. She is a partner, unlike other women in the region, and she is very honest about it and she negotiates her place in the marriage. That has not happened in Uganda or in Zambia where women there still have the “yes sir” mentality.
Are you aware that Kenya ranks third in the world in terms of marital violence after Columbia and the United States? This is because the Kenyan man feels threatened by the woman’s increasing independence and batters his spouse and children to make his presence felt.
But the Kenyan woman has shed the wife tag and is now a partner to the husband, and she’s not doing badly. She is not a competitor but a partner in progress. They are collaborating and saying “let’s do it like this” and the man is listening.
But women between 25 and 35 are finding it hard to find a good male partner because they have become more confident, more demanding. Few men are confident enough to take them on in the marriage stakes, so my fear is that we are going to have a lot of single families.
Moderator: What about the man? How does he react to this new woman? Is he just a bystander?
Eva: I think a woman is not naturally domesticated but once she gets married with all the responsibilities that come with it, she buckles up and does what is necessary.
In marriage we juggle, we multi-task but give credit to the men because they allow us to be who we are. I hear a lot of women say they hang out with girlfriends and visit them, something our mothers did not do a lot. What’s different now is that we take time for ourselves. When it comes to doing what we want, we have become more confident, and that probably is why we come across as arrogant.
Chris: The problem is there are two sorts of men in this society. Those who have a job and those who don’t. How many of you ladies would marry an unemployed man?
In a society where male unemployment is very high, men are going to behave differently, won’t they and an awful lot of women are not going to marry them, so when we come back to your comment a few moments ago that women cannot find partners, or they do not want to marry somebody who is unemployed.
Now you could argue that the biggest change we could make to marital values in this country is to boost male employment but that is not government policy.
Eva: Actually female unemployment is also very high. Most women don’t go looking for jobs, an awful lot of women follow their grandmothers’ example and stay at home. But you all want to marry an employed man, don’t you? For most women, it isn’t a case that they can’t find a good partner. When you’ve ruled out the unemployed, then you start examining what your goals in life are.
Like if my goal in life is to have a good time, be independent and rise up the corporate hierarchy, then I better remain single and that is what is driving an awful lot of women to stay single until late in their lives. An awful lot of women are staying single for economic reasons, they want an income, they want the excitement of a career, they know they will only succeed in that if they are single.
Ken: Many men are also afraid of confronting their wives. But a time comes when they explode and that is why there is so much domestic violence because they think the only way to subjugate a woman is to fall back on the traditional solution, which is to beat her. But this only creates disharmony because the woman feels unappreciated. But I agree with Pinky that there are a lot of partnerships where men realise that instead of fighting, the couple can cooperate and achieve a lot.
Dr Njoki Fernandez: I will give an example of my own family because it illustrates completely what we are talking about.
I got married when I was very young, at 21, and in medical school. So for a long time, my husband was provider, care-giver and whatever and it was a role he enjoyed and did very well. But fortunately or unfortunately, you complete medical school, get employed and soon the money starts coming in and this girl starts showing signs of independence. The man freaked out. Soon there were all these fights about “now you think you have your own money you can do your own thing”.
I think I also took it a bit too far, telling him “don’t fuel my car, I can do it myself”. When I realised what was happening to us, I withdrew a bit and I allowed him to be the “one”. Now there is peace because I had taken over his role.
Angela Ambitho: How old was your husband?
Njoki: There’s a pretty well 19 year difference. But still, the point is that this is an experience from my marriage and it’s not something to debate…I realised that I was threatening to take over his role. If I go for a month without asking him for money, he panics because it is his job to provide. That’s a man’s job. I allow him to do his job, allow him to take me to the salon because he wants to do it.
Angela: You know why I asked the question? In our research, one of the things we found as the catalyst for divorce was that people are marrying their age mates.
If I am 30 and I marry someone of the same age, a problem usually arises because as a woman I think like a 35 or probably 40-year-old. My vision, my focus is so different from a 30-year-old.
What then tends to happen is that as you compete in the job market, you start moving ahead but this guy will not reason like someone who is 19 years older than you. The only recourse for him is violence, he beats you. He has no other way of “putting you in your place”. What then happens is you react angrily.
“How dare you do this to me? We went to school together and I was better than you. I bring in more money, I bought the car, I am paying the mortgage etc and you dare beat me.”
That’s what is happening in Kenya today in terms of marriage. If you look at the urban situation, you find that people often marry those they were at university with, grew up with, played with. I think that gap is necessary, a five, 10-year gap. But 19 years is bliss because you obviously look at things differently.
Rhoda Orengo: I think Angela has said most of what I wanted to say but the difference is that Dr Fernandez had the wisdom to take a step back but with your age mate it will be difficult.
Let’s say I’m married to my age mate and we both lose our jobs. I start selling fish or second-hand clothing. But this man, because he can no longer be seen driving his BMW, is sitting in the house every day watching TV and inevitably the fighting begins. “Why are you sitting there all day doing nothing … after all I pay the mortgage and school fees. I can decide where we stay, where the kids go to school.”
He starts to feel emasculated and stops even trying.
Philip Kitoto: I think there is also the issue of absence from the home. A large number of spouses are no longer available at home during the time they should be. Not just the men who go out drinking but women who are going to college in pursuit of that MBA.
Moderator: Is this new woman happy?
Ann Gitao: I will tell you a very interesting thing about happiness. We are not happier than our grandparents, or our great-grandparents, we are not happier if we live in a rich society or poor society. We all seem to come back to the same level of happiness. I will make you a broad sort of prediction that these ladies, no matter what path their lives have taken, are about as happy as their grandmas were.
Your genetic makeup, your natural instinct is to be a mother, to be a wife, to be all those things and you can never scrap that.
So I think you are only happy as a lady if you have that and you are feeling fulfilled. Hopefully, you end up with a good marriage and a good family and then on top of that you are living comfortably and living your other dream, your career growth. That’s what I’d describe as happy. I think it’s a completeness of some sort. So I would describe a happy woman as one who has fulfilled her natural instincts and continues to meet them and one who also meets her worldly needs and desires.
Having said that I do think that if we look at this woman as we have described her, the career woman who is probably at her peak, 30, 35, 40 and unmarried, I am afraid to say I don’t think she’s going to be as happy as her mother when she is 50 or as her peers or grandmother because when it’s all said and done and her career is at its peak and she’s the CEO, she has no child and at the end of the day these are things that make us human.
Pinky: You are right, for example if you talk to very old people they don’t describe the Mercedes Benz or house that they bought. They talk about their relationships.
So yes, the woman or for that matter the man who fights to be CEO and never gets married, never has children, is not happy. We have to have pillars. And I think that we are uniquely created for relationships and when we do not succeed in the level and quality of relationships that we’re engaged in, whether between partners, spouses or even mother, father, sister and children then we are sad people.
Mercedes or not, we were created for relationships, and those who subscribe, say to the Christian faith, know that it is about relationships. It begins and ends there, in between, throwing the Mercedes and anything else, but at the end of that journey, 60, 70, 85 years ends like his mother. Its about relationships, how at the end of the day.
Pinky: I think the woman that we’ve described is constantly on the go and probably does not have enough time to sit down and ask herself whether she is really happy or not and I agree, I think she’s incomplete. She feels it, which is why she continues to look for things to achieve. She looks for challenges.
I wouldn’t be quick to make that judgement because this point and time she probably does have, she has a boyfriend, right, she’s content, she has her power-say, she has her work but what I was saying is down the line she’s going to have pre-mature empty-nest stage, where she is really in a empty-nest all by herself and at that point as a human being whose a creature of you know humanity you cannot be happy.
Moderator: What frontiers are left for her to conquer?
Chris: I think one of the biggest problem is, the people are not very honest, not many people are in this area. I think when you survey people and you ask, are you happy, they usually say yes and single people say they are happy.
Now they don’t say that they will be happier if they were also having a life they also wanted to live and they were married and whatever.
So I think one often comes across people who say they are very happy being single, they’re very happy being CEO but they do know they miss something.
Ann: But Chris having said that, just to reinforce your point, studies that have been done not so much in Kenya but in Europe show very clearly that one of the drivers for happiness is marriage. So married people are certainly much happier than single people. Single people may think they are happy.