Gender Roles in Economics

Samburu men and women have distinct and interdependent economic roles. Women's roles are centered on the home, while men's work centers on the herds. Some overlap is possible however. Men and women may both do some herding—a task which optimally falls upon children. Men may also perform female tasks—such as cooking or gathering firewood—should circumstances dictate on rare occasions.

Women are responsible for building their houses, collecting water and firewood, milking, and cooking (Spencer, 1965; Straight, 1997; Talle, 1988). Women's tasks are mostly performed around the settlement; they usually travel for an hour at most to collect water or firewood. Men are responsible for managing the livestock. They usually make decisions about selling or slaughtering livestock, although ideally in consultation with their wives and older sons. Men should manage the herds fairly, and in the interests of all family members. Of course, this ideal is not always fully adhered to, though a man risks public condemnation if he misuses family resources. Men are also responsible for long-distance herding. Although older boys and Imurran do most longdistance herding, married men also check on the well-being of the animals. Men perform the strenuous task of digging wells for watering animals and are also responsible for fencing the settlement with thorn branches.

Today, both men and women have begun to engage in new economic activities. Where farming has been adopted, men and women both participate. Migratory wage labor has become common among younger men, usually as watchmen in Nairobi. Money is controlled more by men, since the largest sources of cash—wage labor and livestock marketing—are predominantly under their purview. However, woman also have important sources of cash, such as brewing alcoholic beverages that they sell predominantly to men—including their own husbands (Holtzman, 1996, 2001). Most money from brewing is used to buy food, though women may also buy items like beads or cloths. Money—whether held by the man or the woman—is their property to spend as they see fit, though ideally in consultation with one another.

However, since women are responsible for food provisioning, it is expected that they will direct it to their children's needs, while men may be more likely to spend some of it on themselves (Straight, 1997).

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