Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

"I Know How to Handle My Husband": Intra-Household Decision Making and Urban Food Production in Kenya

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

"I Know How to Handle My Husband": Intra-Household Decision Making and Urban Food Production in Kenya

Article excerpt


In their efforts to regenerate, sustain or improve household livelihoods in light of external shocks and stresses, people deploy and manage the assets they command in multiple and diverse ways and combinations, sometimes involving complex decision-making processes. According to the conventional unitary model, the household functions as a single decisionmaking unit of co-residents who share common interests and well-being goals and pool resources to advance the same under the guidance of a household head who acts in the best interest of all (Agarwal 1997; Godfrey 2010). However, it has come to be recognized that household members sometimes pursue interests that not only differ from and compete with one another's, but that may also be at variance or even in conflict with household livelihood interests and goals (Chant 1998; de Haan and Zoomers 2006). In the circumstances, pooling of labour and incomes for household reproduction is not necessarily assured (de Haan and Zoomers 2003). As such, households have increasingly come to be (re)conceptualized as sites of co-operation, conflict and bargaining among its members (Godfrey 2010; Narayan et al. 1999), and attention has increasingly been drawn to the need to 'open up' the household and focus on the role of individual members in livelihood construction, and on intrahousehold relations (Bradshaw 2002; de Haan and Zoomers 2003).

The focus on the role of individual men and women is especially important because social norms ascribe different statuses and roles and enforce unequal power relations between the sexes and, as such, they often have different needs, preferences and livelihood goals and options (Moser 1989; Mandel 2004; Okali 2006). Thus, the manner in which and by whom - whether man or woman - decisions are made would matter for household and individual outcomes (see Angel-Urdinola and Wodon 2010; Meijer et al. 2015; Mkenda-Mugittu 2003; Nitish 2004). Although men are usually ascribed the statuses of household heads, principal breadwinners and decision-makers in their households, they have been known to privilege personal interests ahead of those of other household members unlike women who are supposedly more altruistic and would do whatever it takes - including engaging in acts of self-sacrifice - for the sake of their children and other people under their care whenever household livelihoods come under threat (Agarwal 1997; Zack-Williams 1995).

This paper focuses on the decision-making roles of men and women in the household in general and in urban agriculture in particular. It is based on fieldwork that was carried out between 2007 and 2010 in Eldoret, a Kenyan medium-sized town of about 300,000 inhabitants. It involved a survey among 160 urban farming households in Langas, the largest (informal) settlement in Eldoret, with about 30,000-50,000 inhabitants. In 40 of these households, both the male head and the female spouse were (separately) interviewed, so the total number of respondents was 200. Follow-up in-depth interviews were conducted among 24 households purposively selected from among those surveyed.

The rest of this paper first presents a brief overview of the literature on urban agriculture as a livelihood strategy and on gendered decisionmaking within it. It then highlights findings on the place of men and women in decision-making at the household level more generally, before discussing their respective decision-making roles in urban gardening.


Urban agriculture is one of the informal sector livelihood strategies that many (poor) urban residents across sub-Saharan Africa have embraced - mostly as a source of additional food and income - to survive economic hardships associated with urban living (Drakakis-Smith, Bowyer-Bower and Tevera 1995; Mbiba 1995; Simatele and Binns 2008). It particularly gained prominence in the wake of neo-liberal economic restructuring of the 1980s and 1990s that were engineered by the IMF and World Bank (Drakakis-Smith, Bowyer-Bower and Tevera 1995; Page 2002), and which worsened the economic circumstances of the populations of affected countries with residents of urban areas particularly bearing the brunt (Rakodi 2002). …

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