In the wake of global development efforts to empower girls and women, a narrative has emerged in Kenya that “the boy child has been forgotten.” Drawing on 161 interviews with men and women in Central Kenya and Nairobi, this talk explores why a narrative about gender has come to the fore amidst complex, intersecting inequalities. Isabel Pike argues that the discourse of the global gender and development arena has permeated the everyday to such an extent that it provides a flexible vocabulary that individuals repurpose to express grievances. Using the boy child narrative, respondents flip the language of empowering the girl child and direct attention to the challenges of economically precarious boys and men. Some respondents, however, often older women, push back strongly against the neglected boy child claim, pointing to their struggles with men in their own lives. Through the concept of layered vernaculars, Isabel Pike argues that the resonance of gendered discourses of need are contingent not only on individual lived experience, but on cultural understandings more broadly of what hardship means to men and women.
About the speaker
Isabel Pike is an assistant professor in the Anthropology and Sociology (ANSO) department of the Graduate Institute, Geneva. Her research focuses on gender, development, and inequality in Africa, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2020. Her current book project explores the contested narrative in Kenya that “the boy child has been forgotten” as a means to understand both reactions to social change as well as the ways that development discourse can be repurposed. Alongside the book, she has several parallel projects, focused on the life course. These projects explore the gendered and economic dynamics of marriage and romantic relationships, occupational gender segregation in the informal sector, and the theoretical and methodological challenges of research on youth.
PART OF THE GENDER SEMINAR SERIES
The Gender Centre has developed this series of research seminars in order to offer a platform of exchange for students, doctoral students in particular, and researchers whose work includes a gender perspective. During this monthly series, researchers have the opportunity to discuss their work, meet peers from different disciplines at the Graduate Institute, as well as interact with other students, guest speakers and faculty members.
See the programme of this semester's Gender Seminar Series here.
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