Negotiations of Femininity in Times of Livelihood Vulnerabilities

Negotiations of Femininity in Times of Livelihood Vulnerabilities



Southwestern Kenya has faced multiple social and livelihood vulnerabilities ranging from dwindling farm yields, economic marginalisation, a decline of fish yields in Lake Victoria, family fragmentation due to high HIV/AIDS prevalence, and high unemployment rate. This article explores how women cope with gender relations during such unstable times in fishing villages along the shores of Lake Victoria. Gender practices in conformity with norms of acceptable femininity – in Dholuo, dhako moromo (complete woman) – emerged as a significant cultural context that shaped women’s access to resources and other livelihood means. The research was carried out between November 2015 and August 2016 using focused ethnographic methods among inhabitants fishing villages situated along with Lake Victoria in Homa Bay County, southwestern Kenya. Interviews, focus group discussions, and participant observations were utilised to collect data. This article focuses on how the acceptable cultural ideal of femininity, in Dholuo, dhako moromo acts as a tool of power negotiations and advantageous positioning in pursuit of livelihoods. The author looks at the deviation from this ideal by women as they try to respond to the unstable livelihood situations around them and how disciplining practice follows. The author also argues that while deviation from dhako moromo attracts scorn and marginalisation, it remains an open space for women’s strategies for survival in a volatile livelihood setting. Ultimately, this study adds to already prosperous livelihoods research by drawing out the overlapping and mutually reinforcing effects of gender practices and livelihoods strategies in volatile places.

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