Source: Daily Nation
Mary Mugure still recalls the Sunday she took her son to be baptised at a Pentecostal church. "I was turned away," she says. Reason? "I had him out of wedlock. They told me he was conceived in sin," she says.
Mugure is a victim of a deep-rooted but hidden societal attitude. When she posted her experience on Facebook recently, it generated a debate that touched on religion, society and gender.
While Mugure experienced discrimination perpetuated by a religious institution, none of the religious leaders DN2 approched was ready to be quoted on the issue.
However, one responded,: My church doesn't have a programme for single mothers...That's something that we need to look into."
Meanwhile, women consider their stigmatisation unfair.
"I don't understand why I am the bad guy in this situation. As women, why do we get blamed for a mistake we both made. What crime did we commit by convincing ourselves we were in love?" wonders Ruth Mosheezy, a single mother.
Mosheezy had dated the father of her child for five years and thought the relationship was a solid enough for them to have a baby. But the man was not ready.
"He gave me all sorts of excuses and threatened me," she says. He asked why she had not taken precaution before disappearing.
Single mothers have different reasons for their status, with mental, physical and emotional abuse being common ones.
Interestingly, the 2014 Kenya Domestic Health Survey indicated that that four in 10 women (42 per cent) justified being beaten by their husbands for reasons such as arguing with him, leaving children unattended, or burning food.
Dr Shilabukha Khamati, an anthropologist and research fellow at the University of Nairobi's Institute of Gender and African Studies, says economic empowerment gives women a choice to have children, but at the same time avoid the hard work that relationships demand.
"It is true that women are sexually liberated, and because of economic empowerment that allows them access to healthcare marriage is not priority; they can also leave relationships that are not fulfilling," he said.
In their defence, men say that women have turned reproduction into an economic venture to "trap" them. George Ouma*, a human resources manager in a bank, told DN2 that he found himself a father after knowing the woman for less than two months.
"Science has allowed us to separate sexual pleasure from reproduction, yet even after making it clear that you do not want to be a father, you still find yourself asked to take responsibility," he argued.
"Women want the right to decide whether or not to keep the baby, but the man has no choice as regards being a father," he noted. This was the dominant line of thinking dominated both online and among those interviewed on the city streets.
In an earlier, Dr Charles Muga, a behavioural scientist, had told DN2 that today's adults need counselling on relating and parenting more than their children.
"The world has changed, gender roles have been redefined, and it is overhelming for young adults," he had said.
Eric Migide's*, case lends credence to this claim. Migide , said he wanted to be there for his children, but their mother was too abusive. "I could not live in that house - the insults, continuous humiliation about what I was not doing right ... man, all extended to the public domain, so I left to save my sanity," he said, blaming his partner's behaviour on misguided feminism".
But for leaving, he was punished by not being allowed to see his children."I can see my children only when their mother feels like it," he said, adding that she took him to court seeking child support.
According to the KDHS, 32 per cent of Kenyan households are headed by women. Social scientists point out that "female-headed households" does not necessarily mean they are single mothers.
In a study on single motherhood in 2011 titled Single Motherhood in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Life Course Perspective, sociologist Prof Shelley Clark of McGill University in Canada noted that, while women in the other African countries became single mothers through widowhood, in Kenya, a woman was more likely to be a single mother as a result of having a child before marriage rther than divorce.
Dr Clark noted that 47 per cent of Kenyan women become single mothers as a result of premarital sex by the time they are 20, and 25 per cent by the time they are 18.
According to the KDHS report, 18 per cent of females aged between 15 and 19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child.
Still irrespective of what leads to single motherhood, it is something society still frowns upon.
Dr Charles Nyambuga, a lecturer and head of the Communication and Media Technology Department at Maseno University, says the way people refer to children of single mothers communicates a deep-seated attitude towards that kind of family set-up.
"It looks like we have accepted it but we haven't, and the language shows it", he said, citing memes that taunt Kenyan women for "matching their handbags with their shoes but not their children with their fathers".
Angeline Nandwa, the founder of the Single Mothers' Association Of Kenya (Smak) has borne the brunt of misinformation in her work with young single mothers.
Speaking at smak's vocational centre run by Smak in Starehe in Nairobi, she said she has "been told things" a an euphemism for insults.
"When I stand near the signboard, I hear men say I am encouraging women to be immoral because once they get pregnant, I encourage them. Women say the single mothers are after other women's husbands", she said.
A study at the London School of Economics by Dr Berkay Orcan found that children do better when the biological father joins the family.
It showed that children fair in cognitive tests and suffer less anxiety and depression at age seven.
Notably, the same effect might not be felt when a step-father joins the family, even if he brings resources and parenting into the picture.
The study noted that the adjustment to a stepfather can cause upheavals in a child's life.
John Otieno* a radio presenter, told DN2 that there is a reason for not immersing himself in his step- daughter's life: "As a step-dad, you want to do the best you can for the child but you are also cautious not to try and replace their father. That holding back leaves unfilled emotional spaces in a child's life"
"As a man you also do it to protect yourself from getting attached to someone else's child. You might go in with all you have then one day the father comes and takes them away (as happened in my case) and you are left hurt," he said.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the subjects