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Kenya, 17 April 2018: On being a woman, wife and mother

© UNICEF
Gertrude (20-something); Evelyn (40-something); Calenha (60-something)

We speak to three Kenyan women who all live in the same high density area in urban Nairobi, and who span three generations. Gertrude is 20-something, Evelyn is 40-something and Calenha is 60-something.

They candidly share their life experiences, struggles and opinions: from violence in the home, to parenting, to roles and respect. Worryingly they are unified in their voice that violence is still very much a factor in households...but also that, most importantly, it is education that can make life fairer for girls today.
 

On marriage and roles

Gertrude (20s): I have been married for 9 years to Allan. In the first years of marriage it was very hard to cope. I only got up to Form 4 in school. When my father died I had to leave and work. My job was stressful so I got married when I was 19, I was still very young. My husband was a drunk and was beating me. I also had a baby when I was very young. I prayed hard to get a job so I could have my own money. Once I had a job he started loving me more. I still struggle a lot but I am working hard now as a house girl.

My husband is very active with the children and parenting: he pays the school fees, buys food and takes my elder daughter to school – I pick her up. He also pays when we are sick and is caring at those times. But he doesn’t have time to play with the kids. On the weekends he visits his friends and plays and watches football. He says it’s my duty to look after the kids and cook dinner.

He is the one in control. But I love him. When you don’t have love you can’t do anything. If you love each other and love your children, you can get through.
 

Evelyn (40s): My marriage has been fantastic, from the time we got married. The children have not seen violence of any kind in the house. I have 16yr old twins – a boy and a girl – and a 7year old boy. Douglas, my husband, is good with the kids in that he provides for food, medical costs, school fees. I work as a mobile beautician, but in previous generations, it was the father alone who provided [money]. I am glad I can provide too.

Douglas works as a driver Monday to Friday from 8am-5pm and on the weekends he’s a Youth Leader for our Church. He’s good at giving advice; for kids at the school and also for his own kids.

He’s a very strict Dad, easy to talk to, though harsh. He will sit and chat with his kids, they love him. He beats them if they haven’t done their homework. We are the same, he and I, we understand one another. But if you make a mistake another side of him comes out.
 

Calenha (60s): My husband finally left us for good 11 years ago. When I first met Albert he seemed good. But he started drinking and sleeping outside of the home. If I asked any questions he was very harsh, shouting at me, which everyone could hear. So I just kept quiet. His behavior was too much. We have two daughters but he didn’t want to work, he paid no school fees. He disappeared one day, stayed away for four years, then came back for a while. You know, before he started drinking he was good. But after he started drinking he just wanted to beat the kids. I told him: “don’t beat them, beat me!” I protected them from him.

One day I told him he had to go. Life is good without him. I can make my own choices. I feel very free, very okay. I am leading my own life. No-one is telling me what to do or disturbing me.
 

On what girls need today:

Calenha: Government and communities must look after our young ladies; they should provide support for education and provide money for projects.
 

Evelyn: Yes, but they need to do it properly so that the money is shared better because the way it happens now, it’s not working properly. Girls are not given a fair chance; and yet when they are, they show what amazing young people they can become.
 

Gertrude: Yes, money for projects really only reaches the urban areas and higher levels, people with more money already – it doesn’t reach the rural poor as much. The Government needs to look after the poor better. And boys need much better education about respecting girls.
 

Evelyn: There are more choices for young women these days but life is also more difficult, so we are really pushing education. Education is very, very important. In past generations it was good, it was nice. Things were cheaper. Now life is difficult, so the husband and the wife should both work, then you can get more money. Also its more difficult for other reasons too if it’s only the man working.
 

Gertrude: A better education than I did because then you can get a better job, so her life can be better. Don’t have an early marriage because this will also help you to have a better life. My daughter wants to be a doctor!
 

Evelyn: Life might be more difficult for my daughters than it was for me but we pray they study hard, get a good education and get to where they want to reach - university and beyond. My eldest daughter wants to be a pharmacist. Her twin brother wants to be a doctor, he wants to go for it but it’s 8 years of study… It’s all a bit hard but we will still try our best to get through this, to get the best we can for them. That’s what mothers do: everything for our children.
 

Calenha: My two daughters are now aged 28 and 17. I would say that they must struggle hard for a good life and good jobs. My youngest must study hard, she’s in University, but my eldest daughter didn’t go to University because I didn’t have the means to send her. I feel that pain, and I hope fathers and mothers and the government do everything in their power to give girls an opportunity. Surely that’s not asking too much?
 

On…women’s rights…

Gertrude: In 2018 everyone must have their own roles; women have more freedom during the day and the men are more understanding. But I feel with this generation a lot has changed…the lifestyle is getting worse because things are expensive. With increasing prices the tension increases. It makes men more pushy, more angry, more violent. They say they regret getting married. My husband is drinking again, but less than before. He still contributes money but he does push against it.

But I must say, women’s rights are better now; we have more freedom and we can be leaders in the community and in the Church. It used to be that women had to be home early for the man, but these days we are less concerned. Things are shifting again, though. With rising prices, tension is rising. At least these days we can sit down and discuss things. Talking. It’s so important. But listening is more so.
 

Evelyn: Women’s Rights are coming up! This generation is more free. Before, we weren’t allowed to work, women had to stay at home and be housewives. Now a woman can work, socialize with others, go to Church and meet friends in the evening. We have freedom now. We must protect that, and seek more for our girls.
 

Calenha: Women’s rights? We do have rights these days, it’s good. But everyone is struggling, life is hard. At least we can work. A long time ago we women were always just waiting for our husband’s money. But we have learned. We have education, but before we just had to stay at home. And we can decide to get married or not. This is very different from our mothers’ times. Today we are now more powerful than men. Now we can be President if we want to. Oh, I do want to see a woman President!

 

 
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