Friday, February 4, 2011

No one here. Just us women.

The word in Luhya for “person” implicitly means “men.” So, if you come across a widow’s house, and ask if anyone lives there, the response will be: "No one lives there. Just a woman.” And if you ask if a woman has any children, you may get:"No children. Just 2 girls."
This is from a Kenyan friend explaining how far her culture has to go to achieve gender equality. She told us this with her characteristic good humor and it led to a lot of laughter and dark jokes that if we all perished (there were 3 woman and 2 men), the news reports would say: “2 dead, and 3 women.”

But behind the laughter was a serious critique. Despite her independence – she’s a single working mom raising four children – and her fearlessness in speaking her mind, when the laughter died down, she shook her head soberly and said, “until the language changes, we’ll never really fix our gender problems.”


  1. I don't know so much about Luhya culture, but if I remember correctly tradition for the Luos (just down the road from you) is for women to eat last, and pregnant women to eat last of all!

    In any case, your Kenyan friend is absolutely right. The language of gender, indeed the paradigm itself, has to change - in virtually all world cultures as far as I can see. Baha'u'llah compares society to a bird with two wings, women and men, that cannot fly unless both are strong.

    One encouraging thing that I've seen in our Farmer Voice Radio project is at least a few instances in which family dynamics in Kenya and Malawi have changed as a result of our gender messages on the radio, with improved household livelihoods as a result.

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