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Outsiders Within: Experience of Kenyan Women in Higher Education

Njoki M. Kamau


This paper examines the experiences of the Kenyan women academics as they struggle to develop their careers. The data I present is part of a large study that I conducted for period of eight months in Kenyan. I conducted in-depth interviews, and participant observations with twenty-four academic women in 1994. I revisited the field to update my data in 2002.

The data indicates that although academic women are considered a privileged tiny elite in comparison with the rest of the Kenyan women, their lives are conflicted. They experience multiplicity of role conflicts and negative traditional culture which defines them as social deviants or outsiders insiders. Women academic are considered as intruders, atypical and at best outsiders in the academe. They are excluded from informal academic networks, lack academic mentors, suffer excessive workloads and are marginalized by a strong patriarchal culture. Their accomplishments are undervalued or discounted. They experience various forms of sexual harassment, and as a result their careers develop at a slower rate compared with those of their male counterparts.

These women however, are not passive victims. They are active and resilient actors who develop various strategies to resist, subvert, overcome or cope with the daily realities of their lives. Indeed, majority of them survive and thrive within the Kenyan academe.

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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