Kenyan households have never been more diverse, more perplexing, or more surprising. Gender norms are quickly evolving, and the share of female-led households is increasingly becoming the norm among Kenyan families. No matter who is to blame, the fact remains that six out of every 10 Kenyan women are likely to be single mothers by the time they hit 45.
A recent Pan-African research by two Canadian sociologists found that Kenya has one of the highest numbers of single-women-led households on the continent. Interviews conducted around Nairobi with single mothers of varying ages and economic status suggest that the choice to bear a child involves a mixture of practical, spiritual, and emotional considerations, and is typically not a straightforward moral decision.
“I did not plan to have a child,” says 27-year-old Rose Matu, mother of a seven-month-old daughter who lives with her in a bedsitter in the Pipeline area.
“My baby’s father reneged on his promise to marry me. I wanted kids, but I always imagined that when I had a child, I would be married, the typical dream, but sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned,” she adds.
Like many single mothers, Dr Terry Khaemba, a 34-year-old who takes care of her two kids on her own, recognizes the value of marriage.
But she says, “Marriage does not mean anything anymore because it’s no longer like it used to be with our grandparents. I am well-educated and can comfortably cater to my children’s needs.
“If I ever have to get married, it has to be a man who has adapted to the modern-day definition of a submissive woman. Men get intimidated because I earn really well. They end up either living off me or commanding respect through violence. The nature of my work demands a lot of my time, and I am not slowing down my career for anybody.”
For Clara Mwangi, staying married wasn’t an option. A 33-year-old medical nurse, Ms Mwangi was physically assaulted by the father of her first child and divorced the father of her second child after three years, who was not only an alcoholic but also emotionally abusive towards her.
“Having someone’s last name doesn’t guarantee solutions to your problems,” she says.
Ms Mwangi finds that the children herself are much happier and at peace now that she’s raising them alone.
She says, “I simply decided to raise them by myself and try to get it right as much as I can.”
For Beverly Aketch, a child was more important than a husband. The 40-year-old journalist became pregnant deliberately at 28 because she wanted a child.
Aketch, who is now married, says that her decision to have a child on her own terms was a way to assert her identity. Having a child, she says, brought her strength, helped her gather her resources together, enriched her life, and most importantly, defined her.
Like several other women, Mercy Muli, a 45-year-old businesswoman, and single mother, says she was deeply committed to the family as a social ideal and saw herself adapting that ideal to reality.
“I don’t disagree with the traditional values of a family, but I think we really need to understand what a family really is.” she says, adding that, “Family should be, over and above, about love and safety.”
A 37-year-old communications officer in Westlands, Grace Kalee has one child from a marriage that ended in divorce and two born to her as a single mother.
“When you have to raise kids on your own, you have to work harder, making sure they have everything they need and ensuring they stick together as a family,” she says. “This is a family too.”
With these revelations, the big questions beg; are women becoming ungovernable? Or is the boychild unable to catch up with evolving times?
A recent report by the World Bank showed that 36.4% of Kenyan households are headed by women, an increase of 32 per cent in 2014. The report shows these women include single mothers, divorcees, and wives who take charge of their families because of their men’s neglect.
According to Cecilia Mwende, a Kenyan on social media, men are just unable to keep up with the pace of the modern woman.
Female became empowered, took charge of her career
“The female became empowered, took charge of her career, and reproductive health, and discovered her self-worth. Man is left confused. The society that taught him to be a control freak and dictator is against him. He only knew a man is a man, even without character, and he should be respected for that.
“Women are seeking trauma healing and connection with their higher self as compared to the male gender,” says Mwende.
It seems that throughout history, people have pulled the nature card to suppress others of weaker status. In patriarchal systems and societies, men have claimed for decades that they are superior to women.
But the reality is revealing the true state of affairs, which is that people have reconstructed and misinterpreted these claims to stay in the helms of power. And it’s all unraveling quickly and affecting the very fabric of society - the family unit.