Negotiations of Femininity in Times of Livelihood Vulnerabilities



Southwestern Kenya has faced multiple social and livelihood vulnerabilities ranging from dwindling farm yields, economic marginalisation, the decline of fish from Lake Victoria, family fragmentation due to high HIV/AIDS prevalence and high unemployment rate. Using the case of inhabitants of fishing villages along the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, this article investigates how gender practices in conformity with norms of femininity shape women’s access to resources and other livelihood means. The study draws on the theory of disciplining practice by Michel Foucault as a conceptual tool to understand the nuances of self-imposed and communal disciplining practices revealed in this context. Using focused ethnographic methods, the study revealed: 1) Acceptable cultural norms of femininity acts as a tool of power negotiations and advantageous positioning in pursuit of livelihoods 2) Deviation from this ideal by women as they try to respond to the unstable livelihood situations around them lead to denigration, marginalisation and violence 3) That pursuit and ‘attainment’ of acceptable femininity remains an open space for women’s strategies of survival in a volatile livelihood setting. Ultimately, this study adds to already rich livelihoods research by drawing out the overlapping and mutually reinforcing effects of gender practices and livelihoods strategies in volatile places.

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