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For women, Christmas means breaking their backs


Christmas season is upon us and Kenyan women are about to start living the traditional life we saw in Eric Omondi’s Wife Material show. They have already removed their nails, tucked the handkerchiefs they wear in Nairobi clubs away, and replaced them with kitenge outfits that come with extra fabric. It is the Christmas season after all. A woman worthy of marriage must cover herself up properly for the in-laws.

During this Christmas season, there is a woman somewhere who is about to visit the in-laws for the first time ever. Ideally, she should be a guest in her future husband’s home but she has been taken there for auditions. His family has to ascertain she is good enough before they consent to the marriage.

Marriage auditions always come in the form of manual labour. The mother-in-law and the sisters-in-law will sit still while you labour for them.

You may have grown up in houses with indoor plumbing but they will not care. They will send you to the river six times to test your wife materialness. And after breaking your back fetching water, you will still be required in the traditional kitchen.

Lucky are those who will find dry firewood because with the rains, many will choke on smoke. I do not know why men never improve the living conditions of their parents by modernising the homes they grew up in.

Or maybe they opt to stay traditional because how else would they put women through auditions if a cooker was readily available? How else would they know a woman was good enough if they had piped water?

During this Christmas season, there are men, too, who will spend Christmas at their in-laws’ for the first time ever. These men are not going to get into any auditions.

They are not going to light fires or have their worth tested on how well they can make ugali. Their worth was already seen and appreciated the first time you said you were getting married to a doctor. Your mother is going to take out her best plates and whip out her best recipes for him.

Your home is going to feel like his because of the warmth he shall be received with and that is the type of treatment that most women can only dream of.

This is to say that men and women experience Christmas differently. I truly doubt if women ever celebrate because this period has been relegated to a time when they are forced to do all the labour they fled from when they joined university in the big city.

In my family I have seen women work from dawn to dusk on Christmas Day. When we were young our mothers made Christmas magic but I cannot glorify or excuse the kind of labour they bore alone to make it possible.

They too deserved to have fun just like everyone else. They deserved to wear nice clothes. They deserved laughter and fun but all that was denied to them.

The reality of our mothers is what should make women dissociate themselves from Christmas labour. It isn’t Christmas if your husband takes you upcountry to go work for his family. It isn’t Christmas if your brothers are running around having fun while you are battling with dishes alone in the kitchen.

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