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Nairobi’s desperate ‘House Husbands’ on the rise

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Stay-at-home husbands or ‘domestic engineers’ who prefer to change diapers as their wives bring home the bacon are on the rise in Nairobi, according to a report by Consumer Insight.

Westernization of marriage, says the report titled Discerning Trends in Kenya has made men shrinking pillars of the family. Once taboo and a source of mockery, stay-at-home hubbies have become ‘normal’ alongside women’s soaring financial independence.

Discerning Trends also blames the situation on a new younger generation whose lifestyle is at odds with their parents.

But stay at home husbands suffer low self-worth that could lead to domestic violence as compesatory alternative.

“When a man turns to a woman and beats her, yet he knows the woman is weak and can’t defend herself, it is because the man feels the woman, in one way or another, is better, stronger, more successful than him, and beating her is the only way he can assert his dominance, his authority,” says Karen Kimani, a sociologist.

Although Kenyans have embraced many changes, society still hungers for preservation of age-old traditions, particularly those related to marriage, family and gender relations.

“Dan Otuoma* (not his real name) quit working at as customer service personnel with a telecommunications before he was fired. His wife still works in the same company.

No house help

“I used the money I had saved to set up a car import company. I import one or two units whenever I have a buyer. It’s not a full time job, so most of the time, I stay at home with my five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter,” says Otuoma.

His wife works five days a week and the couple have never employed a house help.

Otuoma does all the housework, and has a cleaning woman who comes once a week to do the laundry.

“Its not a bad arrangement. I tried looking for a job for three years and gave up. I sell cars and take care of the family,” says the hubby who does the cooking and laundry. “My wife sometimes makes dinner when she is not late, otherwise I step in and cook for the children.”

He, however, says he can’t let the world know he is a stay-at-home husband: “I tell everybody that I am a businessman,” says Otuoma.

He says he’s had disagreements in the past with his wife especially on how to spend money, and he has always lost because he often makes little or no contribution to the family kitty.

Keeps a young man

“It is tough, but my wife knows I have tried so hard to get a job. She has never rubbed in my jobless status because once in a while I get a good deal in my car selling business and pay rent for even four or five months,” says Otuoma.

Typical of a rising trend among moneyed women, a well-known corporate communications manager with a leading firm left her husband and hooked up with a young man whom she keeps. The two have had a steady relationship for the past two years.

This situation is not confined to Kenya.

According to a 2013 PEW Research in America, more and more men are staying home full-time with their children.

Compared with stay-at-home mums, these full-time fathers are older, less educated than their spouses and their households have significantly lower incomes.

Go back to the village

Peter Makhoha, a father of six, disputes the stay at home dad notion, saying African women were bred to respect men who provide for them.

“There is no way a woman who works and provides for the family will respect a man who stays at home the whole day,” argues Makhoha

He argues that no matter how good a man is at household chores, no man can beat standards set by women when it comes to cleanliness, general organisation and child care.

“If I am jobless, and my wife was providing, I would rather go back to the village and make something out of my shamba as my wife and children stay in Nairobi. In my culture, there is no way a man should let a woman take care of him,” admonishes Makhoha.

A good provider

Janet Nduku Muema, a Nairobian, says she can allow her man to stay at home, only if the man can’t get a job.

“An ideal situation is a man who provides. If he has been a good provider and he lost his job, I can support him, but the one thing I can’t tolerate is a man who whiles time away in the couch waiting for me to come back with the bread,” says Nduku.

Sociologist Kimani argues that in many instances, if a woman is more successful than the man, there is a higher probability that the man won’t take it nicely. He will feel intimidated, so he will constantly have to do something to prove he is the man.

‘Trophy husbands’

“That’s why stay at home husbands, especially in Kenya, survive mostly if the woman is much older and successful. Such men have resigned to fate and they just let the women take care of them. In that scenario, the relationship can work,” says Kimani.

Back in the days, it was ‘trophy wives’ who stayed at home as men went to work. But with the turn of the century, ‘trophy husbands’ are on the rise. Although the numbers are hard to figure out, of the 187 participants at Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women in Business summit last year, 30 percent had ‘househusbands’.

The stay-at-home dads are an average of 41 years in age and 36 per cent of them are less educated than their wives

-The Nairobian

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