Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya

Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya

Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya

Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Kenya

Synopsis

"In Thomas's skilled hands, and in her unabashed love of story-telling, intimate events in Kenya help us think more clearly and more critically about Africa in the twentieth century. The politics of the womb are at the core of the colonial experience and of colonial politics. . . . Africans struggled amongst themselves over the regulation of reproduction, and these layers of intimate strife, and the policies and protests emanating from London and mission hospitals and African homesteads, give us something we haven't had before-- a gendered and transnational colonial history."--Luise White, author of "Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa"

Excerpt

In late January 1967 the Kinoru African Court in Meru, comprised of three local men appointed by colonial officers, heard the “illegal pregnancy” case brought by Ayub M'Muthuri against Francis M'Muthamia. Under Meru customary law, M'Muthuri sought 700 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) in compensation from Francis for impregnating his daughter, Jennifer Kinanu, and then refusing to marry her. M'Muthuri testified that after his daughter had informed him that she was pregnant by Francis, he had sent a group of male elders to discuss the matter with Francis and his father. According to M'Muthuri, Francis initially accepted responsibility for the pregnancy by giving M'Muthuri 200 Ksh toward bridewealth. Once the child was born, however, Francis denied responsibility. Testifying on behalf of her father. Jennifer stated that she became pregnant after she and Francis had sex in January 1966. As translated from Meru and paraphrased in the English case record, Jennifer explained: “When the child was born in maternity, he came there to see me. Then he went and said to my parent that the child was not his. ”

In his own defense, Francis stated that he had had sexual intercourse with Jennifer in March and May 1966, and that in June 1966, Jennifer wrote him a letter informing him that she was pregnant as a result of their May encounter. Francis claimed that he then drafted, and both he and Jennifer signed, an agreement stating that he would accept responsibility if the child was born nine months from May. Francis stated that when the child was born in October 1966, just five months later, he knew the child was not his. Francis submitted this agreement, along with three love letters allegedly written by Jennifer, as evidence. Before the Court, however, Jennifer denied that she had ever signed such an agreement or written such letters. She pointed out that the letters and agreement were signed Joyce, rather than Jennifer, Kinanu.

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