Having been in Kenya for three months, I sought to understand the different ways in which gender plays out in public/private spaces in the country.
I talked with Uber, Taxify and Little Cab drivers on my way to and from work at Kasarani and whenever I made my way to town.
I wanted their take on gender and how they perceived gender dynamics in their different workplaces, at home and in their communities.
During one such discussion, a statement from one of the drivers made an impression on me.
He said: “Our women now drink like our fathers and do not cook like our mothers.”
When I first heard this statement, I thought he was mean. How could he say this about his countrywomen?
He told me he was happy that women were now more self-confident and did not have to rely on men all the time.
He attributed this to the increased education of girls and the entrepreneurial spirit among many young, urban women.
According to him, the only downside was that men were afraid of this “type of women”, who, to get into relationships, have to “chase” men.
Most of these relationships start in bars and other entertainment sports.
According to him, “these women” end up drinking like their fathers as they search for husbands and do not have time to learn how to cook like their mothers.
I assumed this was a stereotype to undermine women’s economic empowerment and maintain the traditional roles assigned to women.
However, three months later, I asked a colleague what she thought of this statement.
She said many urban women spend less time in the kitchen as a result of fast cooking foods like pasta.
So, if women cook pasta, what do they spend the rest of the time doing?
Well, they go out with friends to relax, which in most cases amounts to having a drink or a bite.
To understand this gender dynamic better, I decided to visit a rural area, not far from Nairobi and to see how gender is played out in the households and farms in Kuresoi in the Rift Valley.
Part of my work for the trip involved mapping the gender dynamics in the bean value chain besides seeking to understand power relations in households.
The first household I went to was male-headed. The man made decisions about the farm and household activities with his wife.
The second household was headed by a divorced mother of two.
She bought her land through her parents after her divorce. She decides on farm and household activities alone.
The third household was made up of a husband and wife who mainly farmed and decided on their farm and household activities together.
The man made decisions on maize production and the woman more on beans.
To deconstruct gender roles in these households, I set-up a focus group. I started with a mapping exercise.
The group mapped the activities of men, women, and youth in the bean value chain, explaining the variances.
I got some exciting findings — the women seemed to be cooking like their mothers and men drinking like their fathers.
However, the women complained that the men used money from the sales of beans — of which the women were the primary owners — for entertainment.
They were also using the money from maize over which the women had no control or say.
The men, of course, did not see any problem with spending the money on gambling and nyama choma.
However, it was curious that women were not expected to entertain themselves or engage in leisure activities.
The men said, for example, that since women enjoyed planting, they considered this a leisure activity for women.
It was also interesting to note that women complained that when children were sent home for fees, the men did not take time to check the market prices for beans.
They just called a broker and sold the beans. Hardly did they ever sell the maize.
In their defence, the men said it was easier to find buyers for the beans than for the maize.
As the time it takes to make meals reduces, we need to understand how women will use the free time on their hands.
Men have to be involved in the gender discussions so that they can understand that women also need time for leisure and entertainment even if they will end up drinking like their fathers.
Ms Nchanji is a nutrition expert.