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Dis Empowerment of Men in East Africa

Dis Empowerment of Men in East Africa

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Published by: Rasa Lolo on May 10, 2011
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Disempowerment of Men in Rural and Urban EastAfrica: Implications for Male Identity and SexualBehavior
MARGRETHE SILBERSCHMIDT
*
University of Copenhagen, Denmark 
Summary. Р
Patriarchal structures and stereotyped notions of gender hide the increasingdisempowerment of many men in rural and urban East Africa. Socioeconomic change has left menwith a patriarchal ideology bereft of its legitimizing activities. Unemployment or low incomesprevent men from ful®lling their male roles as head of household and breadwinner. Women's rolesand responsibilities have increased. This a€ects men's social value, identity and self-esteem. Multi-partnered sexual relationships and sexually aggressive behavior seem to strengthen male identityand sense of masculinity. Strategies to improve sexual and reproductive health must take intoaccount how socioeconomic changes have a€ected traditional gender roles and male sexualbehavior.
Ó
2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Key words Р
male disempowerment, poverty, masculinity, sexuality, Kenya, Tanzania
1. INTRODUCTION
I think that when we talk about the position of womenin Africa and see how miserable it is, quite often weforget that these miserable women are married tomiserable men (Wanagari Maathai, 1992. Kenyan wo-men's activist).
While the impact of socioeconomic changeon women's lives in East Africa has been widelydocumented, such documentation does notexist on men's lives. Stereotyped notions of gender roles and relations abound with men asthe dominant gender who have pro®ted morefrom the development process than women.Based on qualitative research by the author,®rst, in rural Kenya from mid-1980s to mid-1990s and then in urban Tanzania in 1996±97,the aim of this article is to illuminate underly-ing and so far overlooked factors whichcontribute to an understanding of how socio-economic change has a€ected men and even-tually their sexual behavior. The followingarguments are pursued: ®rst, socioeconomicchange in rural and urban East Africa hasincreasingly disempowered men; second, thishas resulted in men's lack of social value andself-esteem; third, with unemployment andproblems ful®lling social roles and expecta-tions, male identity and self-esteem havebecome increasingly linked to sexuality andsexual manifestations: in their frustrating situ-ation, multi-partnered (``extramarital'')Ðoftencasual sexual relationsÐhave become essentialfor masculinity and self-esteem.Furthermore, this paper is based on theassumption that the patriarchal system residesprecisely in the fact that male authority requiresa material base while male responsibility isculturally and normatively constituted. In bothrural Kenya and urban Dar-es-Salaam,however, socioeconomic change has broughtincreasing economic hardship and changingnorms and values, and these in turn haveweakened the material base of male authority.Male roles have become unclear and contra-dictory. Research by the author shows that amajority of men cannot ful®ll expected maleroles and responsibilities as head of householdand breadwinner, and many su€er from feelingsof inadequacy and lack of self-esteem. Manyare met with contempt from women who areleft with increasing responsibilities. This hasboth theoretical and policy implications.Theoretically, there is a need to revise stereo-typed notions of the ``dominant'' gender and to
World Development
Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 657±671, 2001
Ó
2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reservedPrinted in Great Britain0305-750X/01/$ - see front matter
PII: S0305-750X(00)00122-4
www.elsevier.com/locate/worlddev
*
Final revision accepted: 9 September 2000.657
 
investigate the e€ect of socioeconomic changeon men's life situation. Policy-wise, both at thenational and international levels, there is a needto consider the negative consequences of maledisempowerment in relation to orts toempower women and to improve sexual andreproductive health.The background of the research is presentedin Section 2. In order to understand the impli-cations of changing male and female roles andrelations and to capture the social actors andtheir strategies in day-to-day living, the ana-lytical framework of the research has combinedconcepts from anthropology, psychology andsociology. These theoretical tools and themethodology are dealt with in Sections 3 and 4,respectively. Socioeconomic change and maledisempowerment both in Kisii and Dar-es-Salaam are discussed in Section 5. Theimplications for masculinity, self-esteem andsexuality are discussed in Section 6. The conclu-sion revisits my initial arguments and discussestheory and policy implications in more detail.2. BACKGROUNDOver the past 20±30 years, it has been widelydocumented that socioeconomic change andbreakdown of traditional social institutions insub-Saharan Africa have left women in adisadvantaged and vulnerable situation withincreasing burdens and responsibilities(Boserup, 1970 and many others). The termpatriarchy has been widely used to describemale superiority over women, and the condi-tions that privilege men and put women in asubordinate position
vis-
a
-vis
menÐwithoutequal access to family property, inheritance of land, and educational opportunities, etc.Precisely because of patriarchal structuresworking to the detriment of women, hardly anyattempts have been made to investigate andanalyze the impact of socioeconomic change onmen's lives, and how men are dealing with theirnew situation. Consequently, the very impor-tant observation by Boserup (1980) that thechange in women's work has been less radicalthan that in men's work has never beenpursued.It is now widely accepted that not only haspoverty been feminized, but with the AIDSpandemic sweeping over sub-Saharan Africawomen's sexual and reproductive health hasdeteriorated drastically. The HIV virus alsocauses male infertility, hormonal change andimpotence (Busingye, 1997). But, more womenthan men are HIV positive with Dar-es-Salaambeing one of the most a€ected regions in sub-Saharan Africa (Bureau of Statistics, PlanningCommission, 1996). In most cases, women havebeen infected by their husbands/partners(Kapiga
et al 
., 1994). Married women are moreat risk than unmarried women who are said tobe able to negotiate use of condom more easily.National governments are now in the process of making orts to improve sexual and repro-ductive healthÐstrongly pushed by donoragencies and local nongovernmental organiza-tions. In this process, there is an increasingrecognition of the need to address and involvemen in sexual and reproductive healthapproaches to make them responsible partners.In spite of the fact that the cultural, social andattitudinal context of male sexual behavior isattributed increasing attention (cf. amongothers Orubuloye, Caldwell, & Caldwell, 1994),men's changing life situation and how it mayinteract with their sexual behavior have not yetbeen explored.As my research clearly reveals, men's sexualbehavior patterns cannot be understood anddealt with unless the underlying reasons forsuch behaviors are analyzed. Consequently,both in Kisii and in Dar-es-Salaam focus forthe research was on the impact of socioeco-nomic change on gender roles and responsibil-ities; the underlying reasons for genderantagonism; cultural ideals of manhood/mas-culinity versus womanhood/femininity; speci®ccharacteristics of (hegemonic) masculinity; howare they constructed? How do they change?How are they linked to notions about socialroles, social value, self-esteem and perceptionof self; how are they linked to sexuality andsexual behavior?3. ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORKThe main features of my conceptual frame-work are as follows: Gender and gender rela-tions, ``masculinity'' and ``femininity'' areneither universal nor static, and they do notre¯ect biological ``givens.'' They are productsof social and cultural processes which varythrough time and space. As such masculinityand femininity are not given by nature orrooted in individual characteristics, but arelargely products of social and cultural proces-ses. In the overwhelming amount of research onidentity (in various disciplines) only few e€orts
WORLD DEVELOPMENT658
 
have been made to distinguish between maleand female identities, how they have beenconstructed, and what gives ``value'' to theserespective identities. Such a distinction has beencrucial to this research.For this purpose, analytical tools are used,which combine symbolic and sociologicalapproaches and which focus on the culturalconstruction of self through an analysis of gender identity and sexuality. Marriage is seenas constituting one of the most importantinstitutions within which gender ideology isproduced and reproduced, and is fundamentalfor the construction of gender and sexuality.Sexuality is seen as an integral part of genderidentity. It is a cultural construct constitutingthe cornerstone of marriage. Marriage andsexuality a€ect, in particular, male social value.Sexual (and reproductive) behavior takes placein a cultural, social, economic and historicalcontext where individuals are faced with ascri-bed norms and values, power structures,di€erent gender and social roles which entailcertain rights and social values. Social value isfundamental to men's and women's identity,self-esteem and also to gender relations. Thus,as concepts of gender identity and sexuality arestamped by social value, and with social valuea€ecting, in particular, sexuality, social valuehas constituted a key concept of the research(Ortner & Whitehead, 1989; Caplan, 1991 andmany more). These concepts are combined withmore dynamic approaches to understandactors' strategies, the discrepancy between theocial and the unocial discourse, and the gapbetween say and do (Giddens, 1991; Bourdieu,1986).The new masculinity literature has providedparticularly important tools by stressing thatthere is a considerable discrepancy betweenmen's and women's public agreement with thedominant ideology of gender, and the greatrange of their actions. In addition, while apatriarchal ideology may be embodied in thelives of socially dominant men, this does notmean that all men are successful patriarchs. Infact, few men match the blueprint. Masculinity,like femininity, is always liable to internalcontradiction and historical disruption. More-over, there is a close link between masculinity,sexuality, manifestations of sexual power andviolence (Cornwall & Lindisfarne, 1994;Cornell, 1995; Bourdieu, 1998). These newtools together with parallel observations from(medical) research in the Western world areused to analyze the disempowerment of menand its implications for male identity and malesexual behavior in rural and urban East Africa.4. METHODOLOGYResearch in Kisii was carried out at di€erentperiods from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s.Research in urban Dar-es-Salaam took placeduring one year (1996±97). While the initialstudy in Kisii consisted of both survey data(723 women and 200 men in their reproductiveage) as well as qualitative data, the subsequentKisii studies were based on qualitative datacollection, life histories and focus groupdiscussions with a selection of men and womenfrom two villages included in the ®rst study(Silberschmidt, 1991, 1992a,b, 1995, 1999). Allinterviewees belonged to the Gusii tribe, andwere either Catholics or Seventh Day Advent-ists. The vast majority had not completedprimary education.The qualitative data collection in urbanTanzania took place in three low-incomesquatter areas of Dar-es-Salaam: Manzese,Tandale and Vingunguti/Buguruni. In-depthinterviews were carried out with 38 women and53 men by means of structured, semi-struc-tured, and open-ended interviews. In addition,and in order to discuss major issues that cameup in the in-depth interviews, 13 focus groupdiscussions (each with 8±10 participants) wereconducted with di€erent groups of men (aged16±65) and women (17±69). The intervieweeshad derent religious and ethnic back-grounda majority being Muslims. Themajority had a primary education. Seven out of the 53 men had attended secondary school.Only one of the 38 women had attendedsecondary school.5. SOCIOECONOMIC CHANGE ANDMALE DISEMPOWERMENTWith their unique historical and economicdevelopments, in particular after indepen-dence,
1
and with Kisii being rural and Dar-es-Salaam urban; these two locates necessarilyhave many di€erences. Both areas also havesome of the same characteristics with 41% of the rural population in Kenya and 61% of theurban population in Tanzania living below thepoverty line (Fields, 2000). Moreover, bothrural Kisii and urban Dar-es-Salaam haveexperienced an overall economic decline,
DISEMPOWERMENT OF MEN 659

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