What is the relationship between unemployment and disempowerment for men in East Africa? How does this influence the construction of male identity and behaviour? What does this mean for the empowerment of women?
This mixed-methods research using survey-based, and in-depth qualitative methods with men and women aged 16-79 was conducted in rural Kenya between 1980s- 1990s, and urban Tanzania in 1996-97. The author empirically situates the findings in a context of socio-economic change, the breakdown of social and political institutions, and deepening poverty in both countries. Despite the complex and differing historical and economic backgrounds, the findings shows that widely held, and socially constructed expectations and norms of men as breadwinners and household heads fall into question in a context of unemployment and low income. Where men have withdrawn from these traditional roles, women have responded, taking on new roles to support themselves and their children.
It is argued that this process of change and the implicit undermining of the patriarchal normative order creates uncertainty in men’s lives, leading to feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy. The manifestation of this insecurity was observed as sexual control, aggressiveness, and violence against women to restore male dominance. This poses a significant challenge to binary gender stereotypes that do not allow for change in gender identity. There are also important implications for policy regarding the economic empowerment of men and women and how this relates to the building of alliances for transformative social change toward gender equality.