Even if the 21st century has seen a dramatic evolution of gender roles, the same hasn’t trickled down to some African cultures that remain heavily patriarchal to this day. The pressure can get intense for a father blessed with three girls and no male child to carry on the family legacy. But, we think it takes a special kind of strength to stand firm in support of young girls, no matter how tough it gets. As a tribute to those men, we spoke with Anne Muli — an Asante Africa Foundation scholar — who proudly shared with us the story of how her own father did exactly that, and inspired her to reach for the stars.
“It’s every man’s desire to have a male child”…
In African culture, male children are valued for the role they play in retaining the family name, allowing the family to stay permanently in or near the family compound, and to serve as a source of security, among others. Further, a man is congratulated and considered “man enough” if he is able to produce a male child, preferably a firstborn.
Born and brought up in a family of 6 comprised of a father, a mother, and four daughters — of which Anne is third — was hardly an ideal situation. “My father, having only girls, didn’t have it easy,” Anne says. “He was frequently challenged by his male friends to try for a male child. But despite all this, he stood firm with his belief that there is no child who is more superior to another.”
From Words to Actions
In an environment where girls are put at a disadvantage, having someone there to tell them there is nothing a boy can do that a girl cannot is truly invaluable. “My father gave us the greatest gift anyone could give another person. He believed in us. He consistently encouraged us to work hard so that we may have a good life. His greatest desire was to see none of his daughters go through the hardships he himself had to go through.”
But more than speaking the right words to encourage young girls to dream big, Anne’s father backed it up with a lot of hard work. Life wasn’t easy for the Muli’s in those early days, but because of the belief that education is the key to success, he put everything into selling maize by the roadside in order to make enough to send all his kids to school.
With Asante Africa Foundation playing a supporting role as sponsor to Anne’s education from Form 2 all the way to university, her father’s burden of providing school fees for the rest of his daughters became that much lighter. Today, all four girls have graduated from high school, the second born even went through college, and they are all currently employed.
Continuing Father’s Legacy
Anne says she will never forget evenings after school when she would help sell maize with her father while listening to his words of wisdom. “There was never a day when my father taught me how to live, but he lived and let me watch him.”
For all his sacrifices, Anne’s father is now the proud owner of land that his daughters pitched in to buy for him. But of course, other than material things, the ultimate payback is showing their father that they’ve truly imbibed all his valuable teachings.
Besides continuing on to become a part of Asante Africa Foundation’s staff in Kenya, Anne has become a strong advocate for gender equality herself and hopes to be an influence in the community and various youth forums she participates in.
When asked what else she would like to do for her father in the future, she says that aside from making him smile and supporting him in the best way she can, “I just want him to watch me grow to become the woman he has always wanted to see.”