|The Role of Women in the United States and Kenya
Target Grade Levels:
Role of Women, Poverty
Relevant National Standards
Ties to Literature
While being sensitive to the family situations of your students, poll the class on how responsibilities are divided up at home between genders. For example, say to the class, "Raise your hand if a female takes out the trash at your house. A male? Both?" Continue polling students about common responsibilities needed to support a family in your area, including cooking, laundry, earning money, cleaning the home, repairing the home, yard work, caring for children's needs and so on. Record student responses in a simple chart on the board, composed of three columns labeled "Male," "Female" and "Both" and as many rows as are needed for the responsibilities used in the poll to be listed down the side. Analyze and discuss the results of this informal poll. What conclusion can be drawn about the roles and responsibilities of males and females in the students' homes?
Next, talk briefly about how the rights of women in the United States have changed over time. Point out that today, women in the United States generally have the opportunity to participate in politics, get an education, work outside the home if they wish, enjoy legal protections equal to those of men, receive health care, choose their own hair and clothing styles, and so on. Then explain that although women in the United States have made and continue to make progress, many women around the world still face significant challenges.
Show students where Kenya is on a map. Using FRONTLINE/World's Facts & Stats on Kenya
as a reference, share some general background and appropriate gender and women's rights information with the class. Then have students take a closer look at the role of women in Kenya by reading an interview with world-class long distance runner Lornah Kiplagat.
As students read, they should underline or highlight text that describes traditional responsibilities for women in rural Kenya. Students should also circle sections that talk about the kinds of training provided at Kiplagat's camp -- both social and physical.
Discuss student reactions to the Kiplagat interview and to what she hopes to accomplish with her camp. Why does she consider herself a social pioneer? Do students think Kiplagat's founding and operating such a camp with her prize money is a wise use of that money? Why or why not?
Next, arrange the students in trios. Explain that one person in the group will play the role of a female Kenyan runner who has won local competitions and would like to go train at Kiplagat's High Altitude Training Center to prepare for national and possibly international running events. Another person will play the role of this woman's husband, who is concerned about his wife being away from the family. The third student will act as the group observer and later as the group reporter. Have each "husband and wife" discuss their situation for five minutes and try to come to an agreement. Then have the husbands and wives reverse roles and continue the discussion for another five minutes. Finally, ask each group observer/reporter to describe for the class what happened. Was the role playing realistic? Did any of the couples come to an agreement? If so, how? If not, why not?
Ask the students who played the parts of husband and wife to explain how they felt in each role. If they repeated the role playing, would they do anything differently?
Finally, show the class the FRONTLINE/World video "Run, Lornah, Run" (about 9 minutes). (Note: This story can be viewed online in its entirety. A free transcript is also available to assist with planning. Please see the Related Story box at left for details.) The video provides important visual references for understanding life in rural Kenya and offers insight into Kiplagat, her camp and some of the women who train there. As they watch, have students pay special attention to how the women runners balance family and their running career. After the video, compare and contrast the challenges of balancing family and career in Kenya and in the United States.
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Expand class discussion on the role of women by exploring these related FRONTLINE/World stories:
China: Shanghai Nights
Tour Shanghai with controversial novelist Mian Mian, whose writing pushes the limits of Chinese culture and her government.
India: The Sex Workers
Learn how sex workers in India struggle to improve their conditions and safeguard their health.
Kyrgyzstan: The Kidnapped Bride
Explore the ancient Kyrgyz tradition of bride kidnapping and the ways that women support the practice.
Nepal: Dreams of Chomolongma
Follow the stories of Sherpa women who scale Mt. Everest and are changing the role of women in Nepal.
Nigeria: The Road North
Chronicle the troubles of the Miss World pageant, read the reflections of five different Nigerian women on the
challenges women face there, and watch a case study on women's rights and sharia law, as experienced by Amina Lawal.
The Women's Kingdom (from
FRONTLINE/World's 'Rough Cut' series)
Learn about the matriarchal Mosuo society in China, one of the last in the world.
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Relevant National Standards
These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/.
Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability and peace in an interdependent world
Level IV, Benchmark 12
Understands gender roles across the globe
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