Seeking the optimal development of Kikuyu women: A qualitative examination of traditional sex roles in Maai Mahiu, Kenya
Gripka, Abbey Alyssa Campbell
University of Kansas
Psychology & Research in Education
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Sandra Bem's (1993) Enculturated Lens Theory provides a helpful model for beginning to understand the development and socialization of sex roles within cultures by emphasizing the importance of gender schemas and lenses of gender polarization, androcentrism, and biological essentialism. Other studies have used this theory to observe sex roles within Appalachia (Rezek, 2010), South Asian female immigrants (Talbani & Hasanali, 2000), and Kenya as a whole (Simiyu, 2007). Little is known, however, about the socialization of sex roles and phenomenological identity development in rural women from the largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Kikuyu. This study provides a qualitative examination of sex roles from the perspective of Kikuyu women in rural Maai Mahiu, Kenya. A critical feminist lens was used to understand and gently challenge issues of stagnancy related to sex roles and expectations for men and women. Data from structured observations, semi-structured interviews, and consultation with community leaders and local non-governmental organization (NGO) members were integrated to ensure validity and reliability of data. Fifteen Kikuyu women were interviewed, and their transcripts were later coded for themes using critical and interpretive analysis methodologies. From the data emerged several sub-themes and categories falling under and providing further description of three meta-themes: 1) Internalized Gender Expectations; 2) Sex-role Socialization; and, 3) Goal Attainment. Wolcott's model of data transformation (1994) helped guide processes of description, analysis, and interpretation of results. It is ultimately concluded that female roles and responsibilities in Maai Mahiu are perceived to be inferior to those of men, which leads to a belief that women are of lower social value and tend to be treated accordingly. These beliefs appear to be slowly changing over time through the increased value of and access to education, protection of women from female genital mutilation practices, and greater visibility of women in Kenya due to a new Constitution. Limitations of the current study are discussed, and directions for future research are provided.
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