Plight of the African Woman



Simon Matheri Ikere (RIP), a man who made history in Kenya not because of the way he helped many slum children or was one of the men who made the country proud, but for the terror he caused to many Kenyans. From east to west his name was in the mouths of Kenyans, many in their after life cried for his blood. He caused many to meet their maker well before the time they thought they would. He was a pain in the toe of many.

Behind every successful man, I heard there is a woman, whether the man is successful in doing wrong or right, evil or saint like works. And behind this thorn in the heart, was the innocence of a woman. Carrying the evil of her husband, and no one wants to hear her side of the story as they all assume birds of a feather flock together. Soon after the name of her husband became a household name, relatives and especially in-laws looked down upon her. She was one and the same as her husband, she suffered for loving once. Police searches, village hatred and soon she was sent packing by the angry villagers as if she was responsible for taming her now wild husband.

Caught up in the middle of who she was and who her husband had turned out, loosing her identity. This is a characteristic in the African culture, when a woman is married, she is identified one with her husband, she will not be Wambui or Akinyi, she becomes ‘bibi ya’ meaning the wife of. From the daughter of to the wife of, and when children kick in the woman becomes ‘mama ya’ meaning the mother of. That is a characteristic that has been carried on from generation to generation by word of mouth, never really taught in the recent years.

Though civilisation is tending to check in and displacing the African family belief, there is still that deep value that is still held on to very strongly. After marriage, women are expected to be the shapers of their families and if anything goes wrong, not just with the children but even the man, then the first person to take up the blame is the woman. In Matheri’s case, she was expected to bring her household in a dignified manner suffering the mistakes of her husband, taking up his cross. The age difference often does not matter, be it 20 years in difference, the woman is the venom or the sweet smelling aroma that comes from the house.

If a child in school comes out crooked, then the woman is to blame, she has not taught her children well. The African woman has taken up the burdens of the family upon her shoulder. Paying for even the least of sins that might be committed in the family. If a husband accumulates debts  the woman is to blame, she will never the allowed to have anything on credit, reason, the husband has not paid his debts.

The African woman has learnt to strain her back beyond the limit to accommodate all the strains and pressures from within and without. I was reading through a follow up on Matheri’s wife (she would be an ordinary girl, Wambui were it not for her husband, no one would pick her out if she just used her name) and she says that she wants to have her children back. At the time of the interview, she had not had a meal the previous day and all I was wondering was what in the world was she planning to feed her children on, if she could not do it for herself.

In times of extreme hunger, the man ceases to be looked at as the provider of the family; the children cling to their mother and whine at the lack of a meal. The man is allowed to sit and get lost in thought while the woman suffers and dies inwardly at the next whine from her child. Some go to the extreme of boiling banana roots to raise the hope of their children that they might get a meal, hours on end the pot boils. Comforted by the presence of something cooking, the children take to bed one by one in hope of being woken up to eat.

In times of war and in times of peace, the African woman is always at battle, trying her best every morning to be seen as a hard working one and not another lazy bone. Trying to fulfil the expectations of everyone around them, always on the gauge, always fighting to weigh more with every measure. Not driven by ego like the man but by the need to count in society.

Watching news I saw a woman who had 12 children, her husband had just died in the post election violence and she was left with nothing, just four walls, a roof, a bench, a tattered mattress and 12 mouths to feed. What is her story besides the need for help, to have her children cared for? She wakes up every morning to beg food from her neighbours. Most a times, she gets a plate a day and more than countable are the times they have slept hungry. Question after another will probably fill the minds of Kenyans, why 12? And most often than not, she had no choice when it came to deciding the number of children they would have. This is not in the village but right in the city, where we would almost pride with ‘civilisation’ and westernisation. Far from the mentality that children are a sign of wealth.

We may pride of moving up with the times but there are some beliefs that we still hold on to deep inside. The family structure and the age old defined roles in the family. They could be milder but they still define who we are, beautiful Africans and the iron back, that the African woman has developed over the years.


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