The value attached to the social construct of family and marital union in Kenya has discouraged divorce and allowed for stigma towards divorced parties. Based on this, many women in Kenya tolerate abusive and dysfunctional marriages to avoid the societal perception and burden that comes with divorce. Kenya has a divorce legal framework that respects common law, customary law and Islamic law. Legal recognition of marriage is the key to obtaining rights to property and maintenance during and after marriage. Divorce registration law, when considered on its own, reveals fewer gendered consequences. However, gendered effects are laid bare by the discrimination evident in the difference in available grounds for divorce for men and women; these include the required minimum length of marriage instituted before a divorce may be initiated and the difficulty accessing courts to pursue a formal divorce decree and exercise legally protected rights to property and maintenance—the social and legal effects of divorce highlight the gendered biases and challenges of divorce in Kenya.
In divorce, a woman’s position systematically differs from a man’s position. Although there has been a large-scale increase in mothers’ participation in the labour force, there has been no corresponding increase in fathers’ domestic contributions. Women continue to bear the overwhelming responsibility for child-rearing. Because of this gendered division of labour within the family, women who are divorced, on average, face bleak financial prospects. Some of these women experience minimal child support and assets cut down the middle, which for most women means the sale of investments and a move to a smaller home or a return to their parental homes.
Existing divorce law, administered in systematically patriarchal and biased ways, emphasizes each party’s self-sufficiency and gender-focused custody principles. Women, therefore, are usually at a disadvantage as they bear most of the domestic responsibilities, and this is with the assumption that the man will assume financial responsibility. When he does not, the women, especially working women, who usually end up with the significant brunt of child-rearing, learn quickly that single parenting is simply survival. Their income alone could not support their own lives, let alone the children for whom they inevitably became responsible.
Who then should bear the parental responsibility? Mother or Father? For many divorced family situations, mothers have custody over their children. How does this affect the mother or her children? We get to hear from these women about the fun dad, or the weekend dad who takes responsibility for the children every so often, who organizes fun trips, allows them to eat contraband that they are not allowed to have during the week but leaves the bulk of the responsibility for child-rearing to the mother.