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Women's Voices, Women's Power

Women's Voices, Women's Power: Dialogues of Resistance from East Africa

Judith M. Abwunza
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 2
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Women's Voices, Women's Power
    Book Description:

    Judith Abwunza provides in this ethnography both the fruit of her research into the lives of Logoli women of Western Kenya and substantial transcripts giving the women's own description and analysis of their situation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0310-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Part I: Unearthing the Patriarchal World

    • Introduction to Part I
      (pp. 3-10)

      This book elaborates a single, significant idea: women’s power and resistance as they recognise their needs and work to achieve the means to meet those needs. The setting is Maragoli, Kenya, East Africa. The women are Avalogoli, which means “the people of Logoli.”¹ Avalogoli are a subgroup of the larger cultural and linguistic ethnic group of Abaluhya. The voices of Logoli women presented in this book contribute both to the anthropology and sociology of East African societies and to feminist scholarship on African gender relations. Most of the contradictions of gender relations and local political economy in contemporary East Africa...

    • Chapter One AVALOGOLI
      (pp. 11-24)

      Maragoli Division is an area of 198 square kilometres immediately north of the equator (see Map 1). The outstanding topographical feature in Maragoli is the Maragoli Hills, which rise to heights of over 6000 feet. The southern boundary of these hills is defined by the Maseno and Maragoli faults. The Vahani River, flowing southward toward Lake Victoria, has deeply incised an area between the peaks of the hills. The northern area forms a peneplain, lying at 4,500 to 5000 feet above sea level (Ligale, 1966, 65; Mmbulika, 1971, 1). Except in zones bordering the hills, where sandy soils and large...

      (pp. 25-36)

      The central purpose of this book is to employ a gendered approach to the subtle and complex arenas of women’s power as exercised in economic, social and political spheres. It depends on women’s voices as they portray their life events. The Avalogoli live in an agrarian society which has been integrated into a market economy of a capitalist state. In this context, women’s power emerges as a vital organising principle in Avalogoli society.

      Yet patriarchy is a prominent ideology in Avalogoli society. The power of men is taken for granted; both women and men say that it is predominant. This...

    • Conclusion to Part I
      (pp. 37-40)

      An enduring ethos, “the Avalogoli way,” has three requirements for “the good life:” land, cattle, and children. Unfortunately, the availability of these first two requirements is decreasing. An increase in the last, children, has created difficult social and economic circumstances for the Avalogoli. Examination of Avalogoli history and contemporary life experiences provides a framework for the investigation of women’s power in light of these demanding circumstances.

      A common theme emerges in studies of African women: under most circumstances, the economic and political influences of colonial and capitalist systems have interacted with existing social orders in ways that appear to increase...

  6. Part II: Women’s Work

    • Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 43-44)

      Both Logoli men and women agree that women work harder. According to most women, men “only talk and flock to market” or “sit and order women.” To be a “good Logoli woman,” one must work hard. This sentiment is summed up by Kagonga, a very old woman: “If women don’t take care of the entire house and yard, who is going to do it?” Men are ancillary to this productive process.

      To understand the magnitude of women’s economic role in Maragoli society today, it is important to recognise that women’s primary task, “taking care of the entire house and yard,”...

    • Chapter Three “HOME WORK”
      (pp. 45-60)

      “Home work” is traditionally performed by married women with the assistance of other women and children. Eight school girls, ranging in age from 14 to 16 years, tell of the ways they assist with “home work:”

      We fetch water and firewood around six in the morning. We make tea and wash utensils. If there are fees, we are in school from eight until four. Our work is fetching water and firewood, digging, cooking, caring for the younger children, washing utensils and clothes, cleaning and spreading cow dung. Our main work is fetching water. Boy’s work [as they see it] is...

    • Chapter Four “OUTSIDE WORK”
      (pp. 61-82)

      “Outside work” is work for money. “Home work” is never rewarded with payment. Some women dig for others for a wage only during peak agricultural periods. A few do agricultural labour for others throughout the year, and more would like to. Most people, however, cannot afford to hire labourers and few have enough land to justify employing others. Private entrepreneurial work consists of selling cash crops at a market or petty trading in goods or foodstuffs from shops in their homes or along the roads and paths.33A few women are prostitutes and others make and sellbusaa(millet beer)...

    • Conclusion to Part II
      (pp. 83-84)

      Today, “home work”—the cultural designation of women’s production of food and staples from plots of land—is an inadequate source for providing family needs. Survival—and if possible, “progress”—requires women’s involvement in “outside work.” Shortages of land, the necessity for market commodities, and changes in the relations of production demand women’s activity in both private and public domains. Indeed, the theoretical division of domains into public and private is not necessarily appropriate to Maragoli life, as it disregards women’s actual economic activity. Both women and men agree that women are responsible for “home work.” Notwithstanding the non-participation by...

  7. Part III: Back Door Decisions

    • Introduction to Part III
      (pp. 87-88)

      It is believed in Maragoli that men are the decision-makers. This is “the Avalogoli way.” But even within this society in which patriarchal sentiments dominate, women act to produce value for themselves that goes beyond these expectations. The dominant ideology in Maragoli supports the authority and power of men over women, the rights of men to treat women as they wish (including physical abuse) and to benefit from their labour, support, and incomes. Central to this sentiment is the right of men to make decisions and the obligation of women to obey. However, as we shall see in this section,...

    • Chapter Five THE HOUSE AND THE YARD
      (pp. 89-102)

      Women are responsible for “care of the entire house and yard.” This is “home work,” and therefore women’s work. How it is performed impacts on women’s reputations in the community. Digging the land, assuring a source of water and firewood, acquiring, preparing and cooking the daily food, caring for children, doing laundry, and cleaning the house and yard is women’s work and entirely within their spheres of control. In actuality, a “man’s yard” is under the control of his wife, since she assumes the obligation for care and utilises her power as elder woman to designate the necessary tasks to...

      (pp. 103-120)

      The first step to a legitimate marriage isuvukwidiscussion. This discussion is initiated by men, followed by “payment” made to men, with appropriate “small” gifts made to women (mothers-in law). Women—mothers, daughters and female in-laws—are very influential inuvukwiprocesses.Uvukwipresentations begin the cycle of affinal reciprocity (they “open the way”).

      It is said that originally, the amount ofuvukwiwas the same for everyone. Jayi-Nora (who rebutted my question as to her age with, “How do I know?”) was married during the Olololo-Lubwoni Circumcision, which is dated at 1900. During those days, when people were...

    • Conclusion to Part III
      (pp. 121-124)

      The conflict which occurs in Avalogoli society affects reciprocal relations. Within families, arguments take place between husbands and wives, children, parents, siblings and affinal relatives; these disputes spill over into the collectivity. Consanguines and affines debate about who should provide resources and how the resources should be distributed. Wives complain of husbands not sharing resources they receive from relatives and affines. Husbands complain that wives are hiding gifts, or that their provision of food to relatives and affines leaves the home yard without food. Women and men both complain that children do not provide them with support, or argue about...

  8. Part IV: “Posterity” and “Progress,” Needs and Means

    • Introduction to Part IV
      (pp. 127-130)

      Part IV gives the detail on two related issues that directly affect Logoli people: “posterity” and “progress,” ormaendeleo. As mentioned, the cultural ideal of the “good life” in Maragoli requires land, cattle and children. Too little of the first, too few of the second, and what seems to be an overabundance of the third have placed Avalogoli in a position of risk.

      “Overpopulation”—a tricky concept theoretically, politically and practically—stimulates endless “development” research. Poor economic conditions are often explained away with stereotypical and ethnocentric views that “African women have too many children.”56Emic and edic approaches to what...

    • Chapter Seven SHE EATS FOR NOTHING!
      (pp. 131-156)

      It is curious—if not unethical—that the Western concept of overpopulation (i.e., that in some sense usually pertaining to world systems economic theory, there are too many people) has been most frequently applied by outsiders to the situation in Africa. Western researchers, development workers, world financial organisations, foreign media, donor governments, and particularly these governments’ taxpayers describe African reproductive behaviour as “irrational,”59as if ignorance were a variable. Many Africans are now convinced that they have too many children, and that if they have fewer in the future, their economic situations will improve. However, limitations exist in logico-deductive theoretical...

      (pp. 157-172)

      In the early 1950s, Kenya’sMaendeleo ya Wanawake(Women and Development) groups were aharambeeeffort. Women united to improve their social, economic and political status; to wage war against illiteracy and ignorance, poor health, poverty, and joblessness; and to call for government assistance to women’s groups for technical, financial and other necessities for progress. Certainly no mean feat!

      In 1977, at the foundation stone-laying ceremony for theMaendeleo ya Wanawakebuilding in Nairobi, hopes were high. The building to come would accommodate national offices, provide space for vocational training programs for women and girls, and enable organisers to rent...

    • Conclusion to Part IV
      (pp. 173-178)

      Logoli women face difficult circumstances on a daily basis as they are confronted with an overwhelming number of children and obstacles to “progress.” The ideas and practices surrounding women’s fertility and their involvement in Women Groups require analysis, as they appear to operate as forces of both power and subordination. As examined in this research, fertility relationships may be viewed as intrinsically political locally, nationally, and globally. The local political scene in Maragoli until very recently promoted large family size. Even today, this structure is legitimised by ideology, as children are still perceived as “posterity,” the “bridge” for support for...

  9. Part V: Burying the Patriarchal World?

      (pp. 181-188)

      The story of Avalogoli, particularly Logoli women, is now told— for the most part by the women themselves. Their voices are no longer muted. The elaboration of a single, significant idea—that of women’s power in recognising their needs and achieving the means to meet those needs—is what constitutes this book. In discussing the reality of gender relationships in Maragoli, women have told how people posture in their interactions. Just as men posture patriarchy, women posture obedience to patriarchy. In many contexts of power, ‘real’ power is assumed to be men’s, so that when women exhibit power, it is...

  10. Glossary
    (pp. 189-192)
  11. Endnotes
    (pp. 193-206)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 207-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-224)