The plight of Kenyan househusbands : Evewoman - The Standard

My Man

It is hell for Kenyan unemployed husbands

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A man from Ruiru, who requested anonymity (perhaps for fear of being punished by his wife), sent Crazy Monday mail a while ago, and proceeded to request us to call attention to the small matter of mistreatment and disrespect that househusbands go through. He said he has been jobless for close to two and a half years now. And immediately he lost his job in Thika town, his wife started behaving strangely.

Hear him: “ much as I try to go out there to look for something to do (a job), she no longer treats me the way she used to. She keeps criticising me, in front of our children and the house help, for not looking for a job. One evening, she embarrassed me by snatching a newspaper that I was reading from my hands, claiming that all I do is read from morning till evening, and still expect to eat.”

He went on to say he has lost control of his household and now his wife takes him for granted, so much so that when something goes wrong in his house, she quarrels him together with the house girl, as if they (he and the house girl) are equals. Luckily for him, their three daughters are too young to notice a thing. She has come just short of making a duty roster for him and the house girl. Truth be told, our Ruiru man is not alone. He is in great company. There are so many stay-at-home Kenyan men who are merely tolerated, and henpecked.

Psychologists and sociologists have for the longest time explained that women prefer, among other factors, financially stable men as fathers of their children. By their words and actions, women have persistently proved that they marry up the social ladder.

The simple reason being that they want the best for their children. They don’t want their children to ‘lack’ in future. But must this ‘social security’ always come from men? What if the woman herself can afford both her children and husband quality life? And, why is it that women who are breadwinners in their families always grumble, mistreat and look down upon their husbands?

In recent times, our sister publication, The Nairobian has exposed women going after well-heeled men for child neglect. It is always the wealthy politicians, businessman and the odd media personality who are hauled to court. Poor men can disappear into thin air, and women hardly bother. It was just the other day when absentee fathers started crawling out of the woodwork when their children hit the academic or sports jackpot.

Culturally, there is merit and justification to this traditionally sanctioned formula. Men hunted and provided for the family as the women performed domestic roles, mostly raising the children. But the world is changing. More women are economically empowered. Women empowerment has brought about a new paradigm shift. In Kenya, since independence, it was men who mostly held jobs and provided for the family.

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However, successful campaigns on women empowerment have now borne fruit. Today, more women are employed or are wealthier than was the case some time back. Many of them are single, childless and ideal candidates for marriage. But some of the men they can marry are financially unstable or, worse still, unemployed. And the few who marry such men always despise and mistreat them.

This has Patrick Orenge, a politician who in the past unsuccessfully contested for the Makadara parliamentary seat, worried.

“Traditionally, as men we married women from poor backgrounds and indiscriminately raised their whole families,” says Orenge, adding, “and the flow of finances was always from the husband towards the wife’s side, so what is wrong with women marrying unemployed men and lifting them up socially?” And in the few cases where that has happened, the men have been reduced into punching bags. Ever heard of a happy househusband? Most have low self-esteem.

Orenge adds that if empowered women never minded about marrying down the social ladder, society would be doing better. He urges women to spread wealth. He says: “It is called solidarity. By marrying down her class, she uplifts the man and his relatives by extension. Men have been doing that for ages. Even my mother’s side is a beneficiary of my father’s generosity. That is how our continent has grown.”

It is a testament that men are all too familiar with. Women sampled for this discussion vehemently declined the proposition, saying it is a recipe for being henpecked. Risper Amira, a banker, says: “It is tricky, unless he has a business (an economic activity of any nature). But totally unemployed, that is out of question. I cannot marry him.”

She adds that she would not have respect for such a man. She further says, “It is a man’s role to provide. My money maybe is to complement his income.” It is a no-brainer. Men can still marry a woman who is unemployed without any tacit expectation. He can take care of her. Housewives are still a common fixture, even in middle-income homes.

But Sarah Koech says the roles can never change, at least not any time soon. “I can marry him if he has a degree (academic papers) and is likely to get employed soon. Or if he is entrepreneurial, then I can finance him with capital to start a business. But a househusband for me is out of the question,” says Sarah.

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How fiercely protective women are with their finances is no strange news to readers. Sarah is not alone; there many women who subscribe to the view. Many who were interviewed by this writer created the impression that yes they want equality, but men still have to be breadwinners. Marrying down the social ladder and the whole idea of househusbands is considered ‘radical’ and they are not ready for it. Thus, in the event it happens, the men will be henpecked and looked down upon.

David Kamande, a hotelier, feels househusbands deserve the ‘mistreatment’, scorn, contempt and disdain. “This dates back to the book of Genesis where man was given all the responsibility over woman, and it would be laziness for a man to be taken care of by a woman,” argues Kamande. And to him a well-off woman should only support her man for a while. He says: “When a woman is better off financially, she should support the man either by giving him support to start a venture so that in the end he becomes the provider. Only this way does a marriage stand the test of time.”

There is some sheen of truth to his argument. In recent times, the one who sits in the driving seat in a marriage is obviously someone with money. And women want more control. With money comes power. But still a woman cannot spread her money around to help uplift her husband’s kin. Just imagine how the economy would grow, if women equally married down and spread their love and money to the unemployed man and his kin.

Boniface Muli, a journalist with a local media house, opines that love, not money, should be the main motivation for marriage. “Marriage should not be about economic uplifting. It should first and foremost be based on mutual affection and appreciation. When the basis of marriage becomes what financial gains there are to it, then the arrangement is doomed to fail,” Muli says.

It is amazing how men always take in their wives’ kin, feed them, clothe them, school them and turn them into independent adults who, in most cases, always turn out to be thankless. Differently put, men, out of generosity and sacrifice, have immensely contributed to the social and economic growth of many societies.

Boniface adds that there should be nothing wrong with a man of lesser means marrying a well-to-do woman if the two are into each other. However, nowadays girlfriends and wives want nothing to do with boyfriends and husbands who have no money.

“It is mostly their ego. Most men cannot imagine being provided for by their wives. And traditionally, women are deemed less charitable with their money,” says Douglass Kanguru, a University of Nairobi-trained sociologist.

We rest our case, over to you Maendeleo Ya Wanaume.

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