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An Economy of (Dis)Affections: Women-Headed Households, Cash Transfers and Matrilineal Relations in Kenya South Coast



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Title of Thesis: An Economy of (Dis)Affections: Women-Headed Households, Cash Transfers and Matrilineal Relations in Kenya South Coast

Summary This thesis explores how woman household heads in Msambweni of Kenya South Coast maintain matrilineal relations in the face of socio-economic constraints and historical social, religious and state patriarchal pressures on matrilineal kinship organization. Matrilineal relations in Msambweni have historically transformed and remain constrained particularly by certain patriarchal/patrilineal-like projects promoted by the state and Islam - for example, legal statutes for marriage, land and property inheritance have historically privileged men and promote patriarchal conjugal family. However, the interaction between such state and Islam projects, and Digo traditions (chidigo) has informed the complex kin relations and performances that operate in the everyday relations between men and women in Msambweni today. These continue to operate alongside socio-economic constraints associated with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, deaths and high divorce rates, and unemployment, which also challenge networks of kinship support and the position of men as heads and breadwinners of households. Following this, women are compelled to take up household responsibilities as heads and providers of their households. Many of my informants were beneficiaries of a recent government subsidy program, cash transfer scheme for orphans and vulnerable children (CT-OVC),“mradi”, that deliberately targets woman headed households. Within the context of mradi, woman headed households are explored in this study as a platform for negotiation, contestation and reinforcement of matrilineal ideologies and practices in Msambweni. Contrary to dominant male-centric anthropological scholarship on matrilineality in Africa, this study privileges perspectives and experiences of women by considering how they perform and live with matrilineal kinship. Woman household heads capitalized on the emergent complexities associated with matrilineal kin relations to constitute and fend for their households, and as an opportunity to forge access to resources such as land, off-farm income activities and mradi in order to survive. Specifically, economic performances of woman household heads as survival strategies operate within the matrix of gendered affections and disaffections of matrilineality. Matrilineal ideologies remain alive through strategic and effective invocations by woman household heads to remain central in the household economy not merely as mothers or carers of children, but as providers of their households for the sake of ‘strength’ to their particular matrilineages (fuko). In Msambweni, therefore, matrilineality becomes significant simply not as rules and/or descent, but through gendered economic performances of women. This provides a considerable range for women’s authority and autonomy.





Moore, Henrietta L


cash transfers, matrilineal relations, women-headed households, gender relations


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
My PhD studies were funded by Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. I also received support from The Cambridge Trust. Other sources of funding include: 1. Department of Social Anthropology: Fortes Fund, Richard Fuund, Wyse Fieldwork Fund, Ling Roth Fund 2. Newnham College: Laing Fund and Welfare, Research and Travel Fund 3. University of Cambridge: Fieldwork Fund, Contingency Fund, University Central Childcare Bursary Scheme 4. Fisher House - Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy 5. IFRA-Nairobi Fieldwork Grant