Women and the labour force in Kenya, 1895-1964
Stichter, Sharon B.
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In this paper the author examines the economic role of women in the labour system in Kenya from 1895 to 1964, showing how this role changed as the economy moved into a new phase after 1945, and how it was affected by the Mau Mau Emergency and the transition to independences. During the precolonial period, women's contribution to subsistence farming and herding was substantial, and there is considerable evidence that this contribution increased during the period of British colonial rule as the number of men leaving subsistence farming steadily increased. Prior to World War II, the few women engaged in formal wage employment worked largely in agriculture, and also as children's nurses and in the towns as prostitutes and beer brewers. The move away from the use of migrant labour, which began after World War II, was accompanied by a steady rise in the number of women in formal employment, though most of these were still in the agricultural sector. The employment of women outside of agriculture increased after the war and particularly during the Emergency, but by 1956 this trend has slackened off. Up until independence in 1963, there was no great advance in the female rate of participation in formal employment. The bulk of female labour remained self-employed in small-scale agriculture, and in all branches of the economy women's earnings were uniformly less than men's. It remains to be seen whether independent Kenya will continue to follow this pattern, or whether its commitment to African socialism will really afford women an equal role in developments.