Twenty-five years ago in Kenya, I saw the male-female divide on public display. Beside a rural road, a woman struggled uphill, bent under a towering load of firewood. Just behind, her husband marched tall and proud, carrying only his walking stick.
My wife, Popie, and I saw this so often, we stopped commenting on it. Rural African women, we learned, worked incredibly hard, barely pausing from their daily labors to give birth to children. Girls and young women joined in seamlessly, caring for younger children and helping with endless chores. For rural men, the situation varied. Some left the farm for urban areas, looking for work and returning at intervals to their wives and families. Others stayed home and occupied themselves with "men's work," which included caring for animals. In many cases, however, the farms had been cut too small to give the men meaningful employment. At the nearest crossroads, you could find them sitting in a small group, talking, drinking, or just staring.
We couldn't help noticing that the women seemed generally happier than the men, even though they had the short end of the stick. Hefting their burdens or bent over in the fields, they worked in groups, chatting together, sometimes laughing. The idle men seemed bored and depressed, alienated and isolated. Alcohol plagued many. I came up with this summary: "Women are oppressed; men are depressed."
Overseas humanitarian agencies have done a marvelous job of dealing with the first issue. But they are the first to acknowledge that the second is a continuing and serious obstacle to development.
I would not make light of what women suffer. In some places girls never make it to birththey are aborted for the crime of being female. In ...1