Big Love in Kenya

the project subcontracts the day to day facilitation work with the girls to two local organizations. the organization we work with in Suba is called Jiinue, which is Kiswahili for “to uplift”. I’ve actually grown semi-close with two amazing ladies who work for Jiinue, Pamela and Violet.

and what happens when you get a group of 20-something girls together? yeah, you guessed it. we got to talking about love, men, and relationships. is this post starting to sound a little too SATC? if so, just hold on, it’s about to take a turn…

but first, really, how is it that the subject of men ALWAYS comes up in conversations among women… no matter who you are and where in the world you come from? I can’t explain it, but I must admit that I love this little aspect of our sisterhood.

anyway, P, V and I were talking about some of the girls in the project. one had just gotten married, and Vio was talking about how YOUNG she was. like, she still plays in the dirt like a child would. and then Pam said, “well, it’s ok, because she’s not the first wife. her husband already has two others.”

wait, WHAT?!?! come again? poor Pam and Vio had to explain to me that taking additional wives is a very common practice in areas of Kenya. and it was especially high in the two provinces where we work (Nyanza and Western). for me this is near impossible to imagine (I think finding a boyfriend is difficult enough). how do these men keep track of the expenses, the naked roaming babies? are they all on schedules, Big Love-style? and what exactly is the appeal? (especially when cheating/having girlfriends when you’re already married is also very common, even in the urban areas?)

the answer: apparently taking additional wives equates to elevated social status. so, instead of taking exotic vacations, or upgrading from that Toyota to a Mercedes, men here show their wealth and power by taking extra wives. mo’ money, mo’ problems, as far as I’m concerned.

but before I go and judge an entire society, I wonder, are the women are okay with this? in the rural areas, the answer is yes. (I mean, I noticed that many of the girls had identical last names, but I’m naïve and thought they were siblings.)

so now i’m judging, esp. because I have a feeling that this practice must have REALLY negative affects on the girls we are supporting, and well, everyone else, too. a while back, the project director informed me that the HIV rate in the areas we work is 50%. Fifty. Percent. just imagine that. and now they are all sharing husbands? and, hello, did you read my post about how all of the girls are either nursing or popping out more children? and how can they get to adequate health care when some of them have never even been to town?

it’s like a really bad math problem. and I’m overwhelmed.

Pam and Vio were great cultural resources, but this called for some formal research. which was well-timed because July 10 is World Population Day and there is loads of info about this out, cause apparently I’m not the only one concerned. and my hunch was right, this is trouble. here are some stats:

  • The proportion of women in polygynous marriages in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Coast provinces ranged between 15 and 23 per cent.

  • In polygamous marriages, some women prefer a particular sex and would fight to even out the number of boys and girls with their co-wives, leading to higher fertility rates.

  • In Western and Nyanza Provinces, HIV/Aids spread was common among married people.

  • Women with no or low education and those who are poorest are most likely to live in polygynous marriages.

  • Currently, women in Kenya have an average of 4.6 children.

Polygamy means mutilple spouses; polygny means multiple wives; and polyandry means multiple husbands.

what’s interesting (yet predictable) is that that educated women are less likely to practice polygamy. AND, women with at least secondary education begin sexual activity almost three years later than those with no education. what does this mean? keep more girls in school, and these people have a better chance to get out of poverty. faster, healthier, smarter.

which brings me to my biggest worry about the girls here. don’t get me wrong, I love the Value Girls project and I know that it’s changing lives. but we’re working at the end of the problem, trying to help girls who have already dropped out, who are participating in polygany and who already have multiple children (we don’t ask about HIV). it’s too late for them to go back to school as they have husband schedules, children and now vegetable and chicken farms to keep. and so we help them cope, we hope to educate and empower them through enterprise. but I really wish we could convince those young ones to get back in the classroom, stat.


what do YOU think? to my development people out there, care to share any projects (successful or not) that deal with these issues? would love to learn more.

pic: proving that I’m all set for b school (and taken from fellow wordpress blogger via google image search of “mo money, mo problems”)


One thought on “Big Love in Kenya

  1. It isn’t suprise me. It make me more appreciate what I have and thanks for the blessing, try to do better thing for people….Knowledge is power.

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