What does The River Between say about the place of women in Gikuyu society?
I think generally it becomes clear that women occupy a low place in the social heirarchy of the Gikuyu tribe. They are given jobs such as caring for children and cooking which men consider to be beneath them. They exist in a patriarchal society where they are expected to go through a process of female circumcision to become women, and they are not necessarily treated well by their fathers and husbands. However, there is an alternative approach to viewing women in this novel that does present them in a much stronger light. Remember the story that Waiyaki is told by his mother about the way that antelopes do not run away from women:
Long ago women used to rule this land and its men. They were harsh and men began to resent their hard hand. So when all the women were pregnant, men came together and overthrew them. Before this, women owned everything.
So, although this parable states that women in Gikuyu society are in the position of having been "overthrown" by the men, it also speaks of the kind of dignity that so many women have in the novel and the way that this challenges the way that men act. Women are strongly silent characters who, whilst not living in an equal society, are clearly given real stature in their own right.