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The testimonies illustrate how men and women experience and respond to poverty in different ways.

says no one is untouched by poverty but “women are more affected”. They have to buy the food and keep the home going, while the man just contributes “when he does his odd jobs”. Men can ignore their responsibilities, points out Nyiva, a single mother of six: “When I [become pregnant] the man goes his own way, but I am left with the child… A man will leave and forget.”

In fact, many women appear to shoulder the economic burden of their children alone, whether married or not. One of the few who seems to have a reliable, supportive partner is Helen: he “is thankful” for her efforts and “also helps when he has money”.

Several explain that poverty pushes some women and girls into prostitution. George says they are forced to sleep with men “for just a little money” – and then they are “just cheated, and…get nothing”. According to Mercy, some are as young as 12: “they have been born in such hardship this way of life attracts them, so they start making money early so that maybe they can start helping their parents”.

Poverty disempowers and demoralises, point out several narrators, and the testimonies suggest many men take refuge in drink and violence. Domestic violence is mentioned by several narrators, including Nyiva, as is the high incidence of rape in Kibagare, particularly of young girls. And alcoholism among men is cited by almost every woman narrator, and some men, as a major problem, with devastating effects on marriage and family life.

Some say this is why development agencies target women with their initiatives. “If a man had a small kiosk like this one of mine,” Nyiva explains, “he would have already brought it down. Many men are drunks, and if you give him a loan he will use it for alcohol and not think about whether there is anything left for the children.”

In Oloitokitok, Elias believes women are held back by a variety of constraints, including limited economic opportunities: “The Maasai family does not involve everyone in their economy. For example, women cannot go outside and support themselves and look for work in business…” Others point to a change in Maasai men’s attitudes towards women working outside the home. “Men have realised a way of empowering women within the family by letting them engage in business,” says Deborah.

Other Maasai traditions – for example, the so-called ‘sharing of wives’ and female circumcision – affect women deeply, as well as having health implications for the wider community, but are said by most narrators to be in decline.


Gender is a key theme of the Living with poverty: Kenya oral testimony project.


Alice: sleeping hungry

Deborah: widows have rights

Elias: cultural change

George: no jobs

Helen: poverty of war

Joseph: keeping optimistic

Lemaron: challenging discrimination

Martha: battling corruption

Mary: life of struggle

Mercy: completely forgotten

Nyiva: cardboard homes

Peter: search for work

Key themes






Self-help initiatives

Sanitation and health

Political representation


Crime and unrest



Homelessness and insecurity

Pastoralism and agriculture