Contested terrain: gender, labor and religious dynamics in horticultural exporting, Meru District, Kenya
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This seminar will provide an overview of 18 months of Ph.D dissertation research on the interplay of gender and horticultural production in Meru District, Kenya. The significance of this project is that horticulture "traditionally" the domain of women, has become rapidly intensified and commercialized for export production. My research examines the implications of horticultural exports for women's rights to land and labor by focusing on the district's most important horticultural export crop, French beans. While French beans remain widely grown throughout the District, both production and sales have dropped dramatically since 1993. Thus, this project explores how the fluctuation of multinational capital is restructuring social life, transforming domestic relations and precipitating new class configurations. My tentative findings include a host of social crises: a staggering population growth rate (3.9 percent) that has incited acute pressures on constricting land resources and catalyzed an escalation of clan and court cases related to land disputes; an exacerbation of domestic violence and deviant social behavior such as prostitution, rape and incest; ubiquitous occurrences of alcohol abuse; and finally, the transformation of French bean market centers into loci of corruption and duplicity. These social dynamics underscore the tensions that emanate in an atmosphere of financial disintegration that is coupled with an absence of prospects for economic amelioration. As the panacea of French bean wanes women have turned to Christ to cope with the economic plights of their households. The omnipresence of Christianity powerfully shapes all aspects of social change, as the convictions of female submission and male dominance are propagated through variant Christian ideologies and men face the backlash of such indoctrination by women bewitching or poisoning them. Thus the material and ideational reconstruction that has taken root invokes significant queries on the gender dimensions of power and raises important questions for the gender implications of agrarian change in the horticultural sector.