The world is changing. While in the past, the world revolved around men — as providers, protectors and generally fending for the family - presently these very roles are easily done by women.
Actually the number of families with female breadwinners is on the rise, not just in Kenya but across the world. Similarly, the number of single mothers and decidedly independent women is on the rise.
For men, the bigger challenge is how to be men in the traditional sense, given gender roles are changing, shifting, and evolving so much, so fast that some men have given up altogether.
Lately, we have men who are no longer proud of the children they have sired, leaving the responsibility to the mother. So bad is the situation that a while back, a man had to come up with a Facebook group dedicated to deadbeat dads as a shaming campaign to men who are doing well, but have neglected their children.
Equally, now we have men who are no longer proud of their manhood, they care the least what the society thinks about them. Such men include those kept by women.
However, despite the radical changes, there are men who are doing everything in the traditional sense. They feed and house their families, educate their children and despite the fact that their households have two incomes, still insist on playing the providing role.
Kennedy Omar, 49, a real estate broker and a father of three is one such man among many. His wife Ruth Anangwe Omar, 42, works as clerical officer at a parastatal. To Kennedy, the day a man abandons his responsibilities he ceases to exist.
“A man draws his respect and standing from how he keeps his families and how his children turn out,” he says. To him, the ability to keep the family intact and fully dependent on the man as the head, has a huge impact on how children turn out.
“Both boys and girls need a father figure for them to become good, respectable adults. Absence of one parent directly impacts how the children are raised,” he advises.
He says in a proper family set up everyone should perform their roles dutifully. And he believes in the traditional way. A husband should provide and his wife should take care of domestic issues. But what if she works?
“That is a very important question, it is upon her to organize her work schedule and ensure at the end of the day that the family is fed, the house is clean and everyone is comfortable. Only women can do that well. That is why we have house helps to assist them.”
His wife has no qualms about this type of arrangement as long as the man of the house does not fail in his responsibilities.
“It is true that a woman has to take care of the household. Men often don’t know their way around the house, but for us we have struck the right balance and we have had fewer problems,” Ruth says of their 19-year-old marriage.
However, the two belong to a different generation of Kenyans. Kenyans older than 40 years certainly have a different world view than millennials (those born after 1980).
For one, the income disparities in the older generation are in favour of men. For millennials, their income is more or less equal and that has tipped the scales on the domestic front.
For this generation, men and women work more or less the same number of hours, and just as hard and this has and will change how duties are shared in the house.
“Surely, I work, study and get home very late like him. So he really does not expect me to take care of everything,” Sharon Wambui, a married banker pursuing her MBA says when asked if it is possible for the old order to work. Obviously, men don’t expect that either.
Nevertheless, it is a cultural issue. In other cultures and religions, gender roles are defined and looked at differently. For instance, in the Islamic culture and religion, gender roles are not as blurred as say are in Christianity.
Ishmael Ahmed, a 30-year-old sales executive says, “Men are the head and are treated with respect. Whatever they say in the house is law. Plus, they can marry women — up to four — as long as they can take care of them and the first wife does not object.”
“A man is the central pole of the whole family. He is supposed to provide everything whether the wife works or not. It is the woman’s wish to help him in providing for the family but she is never asked,” Mkhadar Yussuf a freelance journalist adds.
Men are a worried lot about their masculinity given that more and more women are saying that they are not good enough, or even half the men their fathers were!
The director of The Man Enough initiative with Transform Kenya, an initiative that helps men face up to their challenges and responsibilities, points out that men have become passive, tentative, soft and without resolve. Yet, “...when a man loses initiative, he is at a great disadvantage because basically he reacts to what comes to him instead of being proactive,” he says.
But for men to have fulfilling lives, they need to live responsibly, love faithfully and strive to leave behind a legacy that will outlive them.
“Life is short! Transitory. A man’s time will come to an end one day and the game will be over. So what? What will be the impact of your life?” he asks.
On whether men need a day dedicated to them, the counsellor asks, why not?
“Men are rarely celebrated. Being a man is not easy. Good men ought to be celebrated.”
What better way than setting a day aside as an honour. But more importantly, it should be a day for men to look into the mirror and ask themselves pertinent questions.
Do they feel inadequate? Are they playing their role in society? Is their manhood and masculinity worthy of being celebrated? Are there areas they need to improve on? What legacy will they leave behind?
For men to prosper, they may need to emulate women’s unity and work ethic.