Social Relationships  

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Chief's wife/businesswoman




21 November 1996


The interview is predominately about the narrator’s involvement in women’s groups and her thoughts on gender issues and development. The interviewer has asked probing questions, and given the narrator space to express her feelings, providing us with an interesting insight into women’s changing roles in the community.

Beatrice is married to a “government chief” and has six children. As well as her work as a housewife, she is involved in several women’s groups, and travels around the country, buying and selling goods. Travel has broadened her experiences, and has made her desire development: “…if you travel, you can get ideas from somewhere else.” This is how she got the idea to start some woman’s groups and thus bring progress to local households. The groups seemed to have been successful, and most men are pleased by this, as the women have lightened their workloads and brought economic progress to their homes. But the narrator says some men have been hostile to the groups, as they see women getting above themselves. Beatrice describes these men as “…truly the ones who don’t want development”, but she does stress that if a husband forbids his wife to get involved, she must obey “…because you are a woman, and you have no power whatsoever to oppose once the husband has refused.” Fortunately, she and her husband discuss most things and help each other. But she points out that women have not always had the opportunity to voice their views: “It was the old custom that a woman cannot sit…in 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.”

Interestingly, after talking about women’s subordination, the narrator says, that although life as a woman is often hard and frustrating, she would rather be a woman, as she considers men’s responsibilities to be harder. She also believes that education has greatly improved women’s position: “…these days, it is easier because we have got a little education. That is what gives us the heart to persevere…with life.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Personal details
Section 2  Role of a chief’s wife - stays at home in case visitors come for the husband.
Section 3  Talks about women’s past subordination, and how things now have changed – how she and her husband help each other.
Section 4  Believes husband and wife must share ideas - the old system oppressed women because they could not express an opinion. Despite this there was respect between men and women in the past.
Section 4-5  Involvement in a women’s group and a merry-go-round - 12 members and started a year ago. The women help each other economically because of belief that: “With development, you start in the home.”
Section 6-7  Explains how merry-go-round works and how she got the idea through her travels as a hawker. She is chairperson for the women’s group that work a farm together, which a Swedish aid agency bought them. In the past women didn’t come together much except when brewing beer.
Section 8-9  Change in women’s role came about because of travel and broader horizons: “I think the tradition changed because when people began to visit each other, then they knew what development was.” More about the difficulties of women helping each other in the past.
Section 10-11  Circumcision - in the past no one would refuse but now some do. A boy would not be considered a man until he underwent circumcision – instances of forced circumcision. Opposition to women marrying uncircumcised men
Section 12  Men’s views on women’s group; some happy with the merry-go-round scheme because reduces their workload, others not happy because they feel that women are getting above themselves.
Section 13  Belief that women have no power to oppose their husbands. Despite this the narrator is happy being a woman - thinks work is generally easier for a woman than a man, though her subordinate role can be frustrating at times.
Section 14-15  Learning English and Kiswahili at school proved useful for all the travelling she does as a hawker. Likes travelling because of the sense of independence and power it gives her.
Section 16  Doesn’t think that her job has negative effects on her children as it allows them to be well provided for – grandmother’s role as adviser/educator increases with both parents working.
Section 17  Women’s lives are difficult, and these days they want to be equal, but education has helped them a lot.
Section 18-21  Discussion of past and present childbirth customs, and traditional means of spacing children.