Men in the Gambia WORK. while they may not have the monotanous daily chores that women do they certainly do their fair share (some of the time). Before I exemplify how culture gets in the way let me start out by telling you about the back-breaking work that the men of The Gambia do.
Men in The Gambia work primarily on their farms doing all the work that 21st century industrial machinery does but with poor quality tools, hunched over, their backs to the hot African sun.
When they are not farming most men have little choice but to become day-laborers for very little pay. For example, and I’ll do this in USD so its more relatable.
Say a bag 25lb bag of rice cost $1000. That bag of rice will feed your wife and 3 children for a month.
You go to work (if there is work that day). You work from sunrise to sunset and you only make $30-$35 per day. That’s barely enough for a bag of rice.
Now add clothes, shoes, tools for your farm, medical bills, and anything else that might come up.
What if you become sick and you cannot work and your wife’s garden is failing?
You must buy extra food and medicine. Where does that leave you? No where and with nothing. That is reality of many of the men here and this is IF they can find work. There are so many men and their families depend solely on the food that they grow so sustain themselves and its never enough.
(I know that similar things are happening in the U.S. and many of you will be able to empathize).
In my previous post about women I mentioned that there is a culture of money separation between husbands and wives despite the cultural/Islamic decree that husbands should take care of their wives. It leads to a culture where men do not want to spend any money on their families beyond a bag of rice because “women are responsible for their children” and wives don’t want to contribute because “he should be providing for me”. It a vicious cycle that is so deeply ingrained in the culture that I only bring it up because its there and its a problem. I don’t have any suggestions for culturally appropriate solutions beyond education.
Men and childcare is a dicey subject here in The Gambia. Fathers here love their children but are often limited by culture in their expression of it. In America some take it for granted that it is becoming more normal to see fathers with diaper bags and strollers, at Parent/Teacher conferences, in the E.R. with their sick children. All of these things in the Gambia are seen as taboo. If a man were to take his children to the hospital he would be seen as unmanly and as having a wife who “does not care”. He will be reprimanded and gossiped about the whole community and in other villages. His reputation may be damaged, in a place there community is stressed over the individual, this could be devastating to him and his family.
In the compound of my host family my host dad, Musa Dampha, is fairly engaged with his children, more so than many fathers that I’ve seen in The Gambia. I won’t say it is because they don’t care but most likely because they been reared in a culture where it is considered unmasculine and strange to be overly involved with your children. If a father puts his children to bed at night or even bathes them it is seen as strange.
It’s not just men either. Women are responsible as well. If a man were to take his children to the hospital his wife would be pressured by the women in the community. She will be called a bad mother and cowed into submission by the women of the village into reprimanding her husband for his actions. Its a system, as cultural systems tend to be, where no one can win.