September 17, 2016

Of women’s unpaid work and the SDGs – a village discussion

One thing that always, always strikes me when I go for community meetings in places like Lanet Umoja is how far removed they are to the high levels of government, academia and the UN. They are a far distance not just in kilometres but also – and especially – conceptually.

The beginnings of the meetings are always (literally) a song and dance. And then a prayer of the dominant religion (in many cases, pentecostal christianity). The thoughts around religious freedom do not occur. I once asked a muslim who was in the room how they felt about the christian prayer at the beginning of the meeting, before tea, before lunch and at the end of the meeting? Does he not feel marginalised?

“God understands our hearts, young man. We have more important issues to deal with,” came the matter-of-fact answer.

I am writing this as Benjamin drives us from Nakuru County back to Nairobi after a titillating two day meeting with the Lanet Umoja location’s gender committee. Lets take a moment and go into the story of that committee for contexts sake.

As we have continued working on various aspects of subnational data, we partnered with Civicus’s Datashift project to delve into a project that seeks to take the community deeper into SDG5 (Gender Equality and Empowering women and Girls). The community already had a gender committee that is made up mainly of  women elected from among the officials of the approximately 10o women groups in the area. The overall chair of the gender committee is Assistant Chief Florence Mwangi of Umoja sub-location (one of the three led by the Tweeting Chief Kariuki).

From our very first meeting we emphasised on the need for men to be incorporated into the gender committee because, well, because gender is not a women only issue. Convinced of our argument the community elected men to make up  a third of their membership at sub-location level and at location level. Some of the women’s groups are even discussing how to incorporate men in some of their activities.
The early outcome of the process which I am especially proud of is that, to our knowledge Lanet-Umoja is the only location (village level) with a gender committee that is made up of both sexes.

So today.

Davis Adieno of Civicus and the Open Institute team, together with Chief Kariuki  have been taking the gender committee into a deep dive understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, their targets and Indicators and on the value of data to this process. Because of the gender focus, we obviously paid a special attention to SDG5 – going through all the targets and indicators and trying to discuss them to find a more localised articulation of them.

It has been very fulfilling time and everything was going perfectly uneventfully – according to plan, really… until we started speaking to  target 5.4, which states “Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

While making the presentation, we allowed it to fall into that oh-so-cardinal of sins: abbreviation for the sake of beauty (It was a beautiful looking presentation though, which would work great for an audience of the government and academia types.)

The offending slide above.

As we went through this slide, we noticed two things. First, the ladies in the room took on a smug air about them and secondly, the men became decidedly fidgetty.

Soon, an assistant chief gave voice to the men’s increasing discomfort.”we hear that as men we should value and recognise the unpaid work that the woman does – and in so doing, go out of our way to support our wives,” he started, to firm nods and voiced affirmations from the women in the room. “But I have a fear that as women see that, they will demand that we have to start paying them a wage for being home-makers. That will just kill our homes!”

“And what is wrong with that idea?” the women wanted to know. “You dont know just how tough it is to take care of our husbands and families. After all, it is women who work hard to help you to go out there and make money!”

The discussion raged wildly between the two views with many valuable points being raised – including that there are serious cultural limitations to the some of the ideas around “supporting wives as an expression of how we value them”.

“In America, it is not uncommon to see men in the kitchen but here, if my mother – or worse, my mother-in-law found me in the kitchen they would think that I have reduced my manhood too much – or that I am no longer the head of my house!” explained one man (to the general amusement and agreement in the room).

“The real challenge is now my wife will start to put a monetary value to everything she does – Ksh 100 for washing dishes, Kshs 50 for ironing… and so on.How would we manage?” Asked another concerned man.

The moderator of the time, Davis,  wisely allowed the conversation to rage on for a while along this vein and we encouraged them to disect the issue and to encourage the men to speak.

Eventually, he stepped in and referred the room to read the full SDG 5.2 target – and the last part of the statement dawned on everyone: “…through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

Thankfully the full target was understood best of all by all of them, given the detailed debate that had ensued.

One wonders whether the framers of the indicators thought about interpretations by the everyday Joe of the targets. It is clear that such fears and many others shall abound in the hearts if many as they internalise SDG5. Navigating them will be a thing to learn.

All in all it was a wonderful day.

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