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Gender and mobile phone usage in Kenyan women’s everyday life

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  • Jessica Gustafsson
The aim of this chapter is to deepen the understanding of how mobile phone usage is related to gender in general and the negotiation of gender roles in particular. It will focus on how women in Kenya appropriate mobile phones and how the appropriation is influenced by prevailing gender norms but also in turn is influencing gender relations. Mobile phone use is strongly intertwined with everyday life and thus this chapter will approach mobile phone use, as practices or a site where gender roles are potentially negotiated, challenged but also reinforced. Geographically the study that constituted the basis for this chapter is set in Kenya, where family relations and gender roles is presently undergoing changes. The data was gathered in Uasin Gishu County, Kenya, an area, which is predominantly rural, but also home to the city Eldoret and its surrounding peri-urban areas. The situation for women in rural, peri-urban and urban areas is very different and might therefore influence their appropriation of mobile phones. Empirically the chapter will be based on approximately 30 qualitative interviews with Kenyan women, conducted between January 2015 and June 2015. The chapter aims, by situating women’s mobile phone use in everyday life, to shed light on the relationship between gender, mobile phone and development in Kenya and to answer the following questions: How is mobile phones integrated in the everyday life of Kenyan women (rural, peri-urban and urban)? How can women’s different usages of mobile phones be understood in relation to, and inform us about changing gender relations in contemporary Kenya?
The chapter demonstrates that on the one hand, distinctive gendered usage of mobile phones is present - practices that are direct consequences of prevailing gender roles. On the other hand, the mobile phone also presents possibilities for women, to at least partly challenge their confinement to the domestic sphere by constituting means, which enables communication with the world beyond their immediate surrounding. Through the mobile, women can have regular contact with dispersed loved ones and they can run small business from home while concurrently fulfilling their duties as women, which in turn provide them with some financial independence. Moreover, for wealthier women, especially in the urban or peri-urban areas, who have access to smart phones, social media and the Internet open up new parallel spaces where they can get information, extend their social network and chat with potential lovers. Yet, the Internet, social media and the phone in general, are also increasingly becoming an avenue for meeting and sustaining mpango wa kando (extramarital affairs) thus causing severe tensions in many relationships and marriages. The phenomenon of mpango wa kando and how women relate and deal with it, is interesting from a gender point of view, as it highlights the tension between traditional and modern culture and is therefore an interesting departure to discuss whether and how gender roles are negotiated and challenged.
This chapter is an important contribution to our understanding how women make use of new technologies available to them in their everyday life, how mobile phones are used to improve certain aspects of their life but also the limitations as technologies often end up reinforcing existing power structures. By including different female experiences the study also informs us how gender intersect with other categories that also shape the appropriation of mobile phones but also gender roles in general.
TitelGendered power and mobile technology : intersections in the global south
RedaktørerLaura Stark, Caroline Wamala Larsson
ISBN (trykt)978-1-138- 03939-1, 978-1-315-17590-4
StatusUdgivet - 2019
SerietitelGendered Power and Mobile

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