From “Imperial Maternalism” to “Matri-centrism:” Mothering Ethics in Christian Women’s Voluntarism in Kenya

Eleanor Tiplady Higgs


In this article I review some contributions to “mothering ethics” in African feminist religious studies and African gender theory, to examine whether recent and historical practices in Kenyan Christian women’s voluntarism constitute forms of ethical “mothering.” I show that the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Mothers’ Union (MU) in Kenya have a history of “imperial maternalism,” which highlights that mothering is a set of practices marked by imbalances of power. The social interventions of the YWCA and MU demonstrate that the social and religious authority of “mother” has provided a route through which African Christian women can assert authority in politics and social life. I suggest that this is because mothering is a useful metaphor through which Kenyan Christian women at the YWCA and MU express a relational, caring ethic that has the potential to avoid the problem of essentialism.

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