August 9, 2005

African Family Values

As the mainstream media in America have lost interest in Africa over the decades, Christian journals and websites have become one of the rare sources of information on daily life on the continent. The biggest single fact about life in Africa that the press doesn't want to tell you is that women do most of the work in Africa.

Where Are the Men?
Overseas humanitarian groups target women, and for good reason. But it isn't enough.
by Tim Stafford

Christianity Today, August 2005

wenty-five years ago in Kenya, I saw the male-female divide on public display. Beside a rural road, a woman struggled uphill, bent under a towering load of firewood. Just behind, her husband marched tall and proud, carrying only his walking stick.

My wife, Popie, and I saw this so often, we stopped commenting on it. Rural African women, we learned, worked incredibly hard, barely pausing from their daily labors to give birth to children. Girls and young women joined in seamlessly, caring for younger children and helping with endless chores. For rural men, the situation varied. Some left the farm for urban areas, looking for work and returning at intervals to their wives and families. Others stayed home and occupied themselves with "men's work," which included caring for animals. In many cases, however, the farms had been cut too small to give the men meaningful employment. At the nearest crossroads, you could find them sitting in a small group, talking, drinking, or just staring.

We couldn't help noticing that the women seemed generally happier than the men, even though they had the short end of the stick. Hefting their burdens or bent over in the fields, they worked in groups, chatting together, sometimes laughing. The idle men seemed bored and depressed, alienated and isolated. Alcohol plagued many. I came up with this summary: "Women are oppressed; men are depressed."

Overseas humanitarian agencies have done a marvelous job of dealing with the first issue. But they are the first to acknowledge that the second is a continuing and serious obstacle to development. [More]

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1 comment:

Warren said...

I think it's a brilliant article. I just have no idea what could be done about the problem.

Doesn't this ring true:

As some of the literature notes, men are not anxious to be "fixed."

There's no cultural divide there. I understand that 100%. What I don't understand is the depth of intransigence towards inhumane treatment of wives, daughters, and female children. I understand depression as a reasonable word for their demeanor, but not that it justifies these horrible patterns of behaviour. It's not just that they are characterized in literature by these behaviours. The development workers can give lots of stories about how awful the men's behaviour towards women can get.

What to do? It's enough to make me get all feminist, and stuff. Like that would help.