“My House is My Husband” A Kenyan Study on Women’s Access to Land and Housing

“My House is My Husband” A Kenyan Study on Women’s Access to Land and Housing

This thesis raises questions about women’s access to property, (land and housing in Kenya. The gender contract determines men’s and women’s relationship to each other and to property. Such contracts are the invisible agreements found in every society about how men and women should behave. Empirical data from peasants plantation and urban poor case study settings demonstrate that there are two gender contract in Kenya, the subsistence gender contract and the market gender contract.

According to both, women cannot inherit property. Also, women are responsible for providing their families’ subsistence, including the provision of water, fuel, food and building materials which are obtained from natural resources. According o the market gender contract, women may, however, buy property. This contract prevails more in urban areas, although both contracts operate in each of the three settings. According to both women carry heavy workloads and familial responsibilities. The terms of the gender contract are less onerous for men, who also control property which they may inherit as free capital.

A model is presented showing how micro level changes takes place by means of women’s responses to the situation in which they find themselves. Women’s actions are based on their strategies for improving their lives, collective action is one such strategy with important implications for housing.

The Kenyan gender contracts delineate a power relationship in which women’s lack of access to property keeps them in a subordinate position to men and requires them to provide subsistence The power relationship, based on economic inequality, does not accord with the normative concept of human rights.

The fact that women in the study adhere to the subsistence part of the gender contract without question, although many resent their lack of property rights, suggests that women see the provision of subsistence as a basic human value. It is suggested that the provision of subsistence should be a responsibility of both men and women in Kenya, and that the concept of subsistence be revived as a normative value and economic principle.

There are thousands of women’s community based organization in Kenya, a significant proportion of which are involved in property acquisition and development, or the improvement of housing. This potential for housing production in Kenya remains largely unrecognized. A gendered housing policy is needed based on women’s property rights and housing production capability. It should support the values and objectives of women’s groups.