In the not-so-distant past, life, particularly in Kenya, largely revolved around men. Men were seen as the sole breadwinners and protectors in many households, and with this came nonpareil power with which they towered over women.
Although the country is still male-dominated in many fields, women have made significant gains in terms of acquiring power.
This, in effect, has caused concern across the bearded gender, with many Kenyans feeling that the boy-child has been neglected as society focuses its attention on empowering the girl-child.
A report released last year by the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that out of the 421 cases of suicide recorded in the country in 2017, 330 of them, a staggering 78 per cent, were men, statistics that some would argue indicate that the Kenyan man is neglected in many areas.
Rev Timothy Njoya, a retired Minister for the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and a leading advocate for gender equality, terms the notion that the Kenyan ‘boychild’ is being threatened as spurious.
Njoya has written several texts on masculinity, including The Crisis of Explosive Masculinity, a book published in 2008. According to the former clergyman, societal power is still heavily skewed in favour of men.
“Take a look at our Parliament, judiciary and other powerful leadership positions, and you could say that 80 percent of those positions are filled by men. Go to the land registry and you will discover the truth that a disproportionately large percentage of land in Kenya is owned by men.
On our roads, I have it on good authority that 80 percent of lorries and matatus belong to men. So, tell me, who is disadvantaged?” Njoya posits.
The minister’s sentiments are echoed by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index, which places Kenya at a lowly position 137 out of 160 in terms of gender equality.
According to the data, women earn less than men, are less likely to complete secondary school education and are less represented in the workplace. Rev Njoya estimates that at the current pace, it may take 100 years for the Kenyan woman to be at par with her male counterpart socially, politically and economically.
In the social hierarchy, Njoya observes, women have been disadvantaged as well, in that they are often seen as men’s property to be exchanged by clan elders for goats and sheep.
“Tradition and religion have bestowed upon the man the roles of being the owner of property, provider of daily basic needs, and protector of the family. Patriarchy in traditional African society provided legitimacy for men to hold a dominant position over women. The culture allowed men to be the sole decision makers and property owners, hence granting them absolute power. However, times are quickly changing and women today are finding ways to earn their own money, own property and acquire power for themselves.”
“As such, women no longer have to depend solely on men for providence or protection. This shift in roles and change of societal norms is what is causing the current apparent crisis of masculinity facing Kenyan men today,” Njoya explains.
Today’s world, he adds, disregards the constraints and privileges placed upon the sexes and genders by tradition. Instead, modern Kenya is ruled by laws of economy, which do not discriminate against sexes.
He says, “The beautiful thing about the market is that it does not care whether you are a man or a woman. If you are a good lawyer, you still get hired regardless of your sex. A woman could sell her wares in the market and earn just as much as the man does. Teachers are remunerated according to their job groups, not sex. Before the market, all of us are equal.”
According to the scholar and gender researcher, men fall into depressive tendencies when they cannot meet the expectations that the society has traditionally bestowed unto them, which are owning, providing and protecting.
“At school, men are constantly told that they are the leaders of tomorrow, while women are taught how to be the mothers of a nation.
What happens to a man who later on in life discovers that he does not have leadership qualities? In the church, we are taught that men are supposed to be the head of the household. Should a man whose wife possesses better leadership qualities feel less of a man?” he questions.
Due to the equality that today’s ‘market’ provides, a woman is now able to pay school fees for her children, thus performing the provider role. She can as well pay rent or buy a house, achieving the ownership status.
And by providing financial security to her family, she qualifies as a protector. Rev Njoya notes that such progress misaligns with how men have been programmed. Often, in such circumstances, men end up feeling that they have been pushed to the periphery and are losing power.
The inability to live up to societal and self-expectations leads to what Rev Njoya refers to as “flawed masculinities and suicidal manhood.” Men, Njoya says, agonise when they are not recognised as the providers, protectors and owners.
This drives them to suicide, excessive drinking, and habits of violence towards the spouse, children and other men. The reverend reveals that he has counselled many couples over the years and the issue of the man not feeling ‘man enough’ is usually at the centre of most acrimony in relationships.
To correct this, he says, society needs radical surgery that will cut to the core of our cultural beliefs and traditions.
We need to change what we preach in churches, in our houses and in the media. He adds that it is no longer feasible to delegate the role of providers and protectors to men only.
Men need to be taught that women too can successfully step into these roles, and that this does not make them less of men.
“The way we currently bring up our boys is dangerous, we are setting them up for frustration in future. We should raise all our children with the same expectations and roles irrespective of their sex,” says Njoya, a father of one son and four daughters.
“I cannot, for instance, say that my son is the leader of my children, just because he’s male.”
In marriages, men would save themselves from many stress factors by recognising that the wife and children are not always beholden to them.
“I have talents such as preaching, teaching and counselling, but I am wise enough to recognise that my wife is a better leader than me. She has always earned more than 10 times what I make and has bought me all the cars I have ever owned. Thankfully, I do not prescribe to patriarchal convictions that say that the man is superior to the woman. As such, I have never felt less of a man in my marriage.”
Njoya is the Executive Director of Men for the Equality of Men and Women (MEW), an initiative that seeks to create equitable gender relations.
“We take in men whose relations with the opposite sex have been poisoned by culture and realign their societal expectations hence making them lead happier and more fulfilling lives. We do this by reversing traditional gender norms with activities such as teaching men how to cook and look after their children,” he explains.