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The Men Who Are Boycotting Valentine's Day In Kenya

Feb 14, 2020
Originally published on February 14, 2020 5:29 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Kenya today, some men are boycotting Valentine's Day and going instead to men's empowerment conferences. NPR's Eyder Peralta joined me earlier from Nairobi with some of the attendees.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So I'm at one of the after-parties of these so-called men's conferences. And it's a bar. And there are a lot of men, but actually quite a few women, too.

And, look; Audie, all of this here in Kenya started as a joke on social media a few years ago. It was a bunch of Kenyan men joking that women just wanted to fleece them on Valentine's Day. But this really touched a nerve here. And suddenly, you know, a pastor had one of these conferences last year. And this year, they are everywhere.

I actually have two friends here, James Ambola (ph) and Kevin Kamau (ph), who have left their girlfriends behind today. And they're laughing. And, Audie, I'm going to let you talk some sense into them.

CORNISH: Hi (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi, hi.

CORNISH: Why did you need to get away from your girlfriends tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Today's all about us - you know, us as men, meeting, talking - men stuff. There's a lot of stuff to talk about, you know?

CORNISH: What do you talk about on this day that you don't talk about the rest of the year?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You know, how to unite men, because in the society today, as women are being empowered, men are left behind, OK? So now what's happening is we are trying to, you know, help the boy child as well because most of the times, you can see that girls are becoming lawyers, which is not bad. Girls are becoming lawyers and doctors and, you know, big, big names. And we need to also empower the boy child, who is, you know, looked at as the man of the home, and, you know, empower them and encourage them, you know, to do it in life as well.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Every organization right now is doing women empowerment and everything. And it's like it's gone beyond. Right now, the boy child has been forgotten. They've gotten into drugs and stuff. They're all over. Some are getting lazy because the ladies have overshadowed them. So we have to punch (ph) these guys. We have to tell them, you know, get back to business. We have to encourage them.

And we need this time alone. We need this time to party, just to talk about them and talk to them and tell them, you know what? We are focused, and we need to do this. We need to grow this man and - you know?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, that's it.

CORNISH: Well, James Ambola and Kevin Kamau, thank you so much for speaking with me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you.

PERALTA: All right. I'm back.

CORNISH: Eyder, so help us understand what goes on at this conference beyond the party.

PERALTA: So, you know, the big issue is that the men at this conference felt that they had lost their place in society. Women have started earning money. They've become independent, working outside the home. The roles have changed, but they feel like women still have the same expectations of them. And to be fair, there were men at the conference who said that they had to learn to be better to be partners with women. But the lines that got the biggest applause and cheers were when men said women need to learn to take a back seat, to be submissive.

CORNISH: There's a men's rights-type movement here in the U.S. Can you talk about whether in Kenya this is seen as a full-blown movement yet?

PERALTA: There are certainly a lot of people here who are celebrating Valentine's Day, but the gender equality commission here in Kenya actually did a study about this, and they found that most Kenyans believe that society is leaving men and boys behind. So what you've seen this year particularly is this has taken over the country. This has taken over the conversation of the country. So, yeah, I think it is a full-blown movement.

CORNISH: And can I ask how women are feeling about this?

PERALTA: You know, a lot of women actually agree with the men in Kenya. But I spoke to Grace Wamue-Ngare, an academic who studies gender. And when I brought up these feelings of inadequacy by men, she laughed for about 30 seconds because she says Kenya is still a deeply unequal place. The constitution, for example, mandates that one-third of Parliament should be women, and that has never been attained. So men's complaints ring hollow to her.

But this professor - she says that changes have happened really fast here in Kenya. Women have gotten jobs, and they've left bad men because they now have the means to. She says divorce rates are up; marriage rates are down. And she says this feels like women and men are at war right now in Kenya. But she says that change always feels like a crisis, and things will settle down, she says, when men accept that women will not go back to staying quiet and staying at home.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting on Kenyan men boycotting Valentine's Day. Thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Audie.

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