culture and customs
family life

social change
social relationships
spiritual beliefs

introducing the area


 quotes about gender
 key testimonies featuring gender

Kenyan womanThis is a strong topic in the collection, and people's interviews testify to a time of considerable change in gender norms and values, though opinions vary as to its extent. Education has been a major force for change and although several narrators acknowledge that some discrimination remains against girls, the numbers attending school has risen significantly. The increase in female education has had an impact on many women's working lives, opening up new occupations: several female narrators are teachers, one a headmistress, and one a civil servant.

Thus there is evidence of practical change, and of shifts in people's attitudes to gender, but people's experiences are certainly not uniform. For example, in family life and relations between the sexes, change seems more limited, and there is continuing reference to traditional expectations. One narrator talks about domestic violence as a fact of married life, describing how her grandmother taught her that if her husband wanted to beat her, she should just "go hide...[and] when he cools [off], return". And another narrator has no qualms in admitting that he is "forced to beat [his wife] for her to accept her mistakes" (Kenya 21) . Another says that, "Even if I earn my salary, I have to respect my husband just like any Sabaot woman" (Kenya 16) . Yet, as women acquire jobs and the idea of men being the sole breadwinners of the family is being challenged, clearly some couples are taking more equal roles in decision making: "It was the old custom that a woman cannot sit the presence of men, or even speak before them. A woman had no right to say anything in her husband's presence.In our life now, things have changed from how they were in the past. So like me and my husband, we can sit together, talk and plan what will happen...we share ideas." (Kenya 6)

Despite these new developments, many traditional expectations remain. Pre-marital relations for women are frowned upon. Wives are expected to bear children and tend to household duties, whether or not they have an outside job, as well as respect their husband's wishes regarding family planning. And they may still be abandoned if they prove barren, bear disabled children, or only produce girls. There's a common feeling that women do more work than men: ".moran (men) don't have a lot of work.We appreciate them because of the protection they offer us in so many matters but the rest of the work is left to us." (Kenya 2) Women on their own have a hard time: one narrator describes how difficult it was for her to bring up her family alone when her husband died, because of people's reluctance to accept her as head of her family. And several narrators mention instances where, following the death of a husband, a brother followed the tradition of taking on his wife. Although they say this tradition is dying out, women still warn of cases where widows and their families have been exploited by their in-laws.

However, judging by the testimonies, women are beginning to rebel against some traditions, in particular female circumcision and polygamy. Both practices seem to divide the community and inspire strong feelings. The right not to be forced into marriage is also a growing concern among young women. There is also some discussion on the activities of women's groups in the area, and many feel that, quite apart from their practical value, they have helped to strengthen a sense of a community of women.

quotes about gender

"Most Sabaot families look at the son as the cornerstone of the family."
Jane, F/36, teacher, Kenya 16

"He does the planning and you do the implementation.The roles of a woman have changed, especially for the elite (educated) women, for they can plan for the family just like the husband. The roles are always the same for men."
Jane, F/36, teacher, Kenya 16

"[The Sabaot] still hold the belief that the boy is superior to a girl. It is only very few people among those who have gone to school that have managed to overcome this bias."
Masai, M/57, retired primary school teacher, Kenya 11

"The Sabaot still... see a woman as the property of the husband..."
Ben, M/59, local KANU chairman, Kenya 18

"The elite women (the educated) are of more value to their parents and the community. We are living in a time of money economy."
Jane, F/36, techer, Kenya 16

"[My husband] has become very old....Now, it seems as though I am his husband, because I am the one who caters for his needs."
Zipora, F/37, housewife, Kenya 7

key testimonies featuring gender

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   10   Ann   Female/47   Farmer/housewife/widow     
Summary Transcript   16   Jane   Female/36   Teacher   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   17   Silbabel   Male/90ís   Former preacher and religious teacher     
Summary Transcript   18   Ben   Male/59   local KANU Chairman   Kopsiro  
Summary Transcript   2   Dina and Margaret   Female/42   Dispossessed farmers     
Summary Transcript   21   Joseph   Male/39   Farmer   Chepkuyi, Kibuk  
Summary Transcript   3   Lois   Female/   Retired Civil Servant/ Electoral co-ordinator     
Summary Transcript   5   Beatrice   Female/53   Retired headmistress   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   6   Beatrice   Female/43   Chief's wife/businesswoman   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   7   Zipora   Female/47   Housewife   Kamtiong  
Summary Transcript   8   Mary   Female/30   Farmer/petty trader   Kapsokwony market