by Rachel Muthoni
Cases of domestic violence are on the rise in Kenya. While in the past women were known to receive beatings from their husbands, it seems in recent years that women too are inflicting violence on their husbands.
In many African traditions men beat their wives to show their superiority. In some customs, women are equated with children and men discipline their wives just as they would their children.
The Kenya Demographic survey of 2008 indicates that 39 percent of women surveyed have been abused by their partners. In the same year, a survey by the Federation of Women Lawyers - Kenya (FIDA Kenya) indicates that almost 75 percent of surveyed women have undergone violence.
But ‘modern’ domestic violence is not just about men disciplining women. While reported rates of violence of men against women are much higher than those of women against men, experts are worried over the rising number of cases. And while there are no official statistics of violence against men, media reports of victims assert the trend is rising of women abusing men.
Men claim that women have been empowered and now want to overpower their husbands. Women have another view. Over the past few years, women have been empowered in Kenya. They know their rights at home. For example, they can now take men to court to have the man pay for their upkeep as well as that of their children. Organizations like FIDA Kenya give women a place to go to when they are abused at home. While this has a positive impact on most women, some have interpreted it as a chance for them to rule, knowing men do not have many organizations to fight for them. The promotion of girl-child education has made more women literate and they know their rights, unlike before when the culture suppressed their rights.
“He comes home drunk every day. He does not contribute to the needs of the children and does not fulfill my conjugal rights. Why not discipline him?” says Mary Wamaitha, a woman from Mukurwe-ini Nyeri. Wamaitha feels many men are beaten by their wives because “they have already been beaten themselves.”
Corporal punishment is not allowed by Kenyan law. Article 29 of 2010 in the Kenyan constitution protects all Kenyans from being subjected to violence in any manner, whether physical or psychological. It gives all Kenyans the right not to be punished in a cruel, inhumane, or degrading manner. But parents and sometimes teachers - especially in rural areas - still cane children either out of ignorance or refusal to abide by the law.
In central Kenya, where I was born, men drink an illicit brew from early morning to late evening. The brew is cheap and most men do not work. Instead, they expect their wives to go for casual jobs and then take what they earned to quench their brew addiction.
Several times in the past two years, women from Central Kenya, especially the younger generations, have taken to the streets to protest their sexually inactive husbands.
In Nyeri, Central Kenya, men have recently formed the lobbying group ‘Men Against Women Excesses’ to fight husband battering. Gabriel Wamutitu, an official of the group, says they are working to address all issues on domestic violence from its causes to eradication of the vice. “We attribute the violence to illicit brews, poverty, and unemployment, but we shall carry out more research,” says Wamutitu.
Men Against Excesses is researching cases where men have been battered with an aim of suing the offenders. However, the group has yet to come up with statistics for the number of men who have been subjected to domestic violence.
Another group Maendeleo ya Wanaumme (Kiswahili for Men’s Empowerment) has been actively involved in highlighting issues where men are physically abused by their wives. I met Nderitu Njoka, the chairman of this organization, on several occasions as he visited abused men in hospitals.
“We have given women a red card, they have to stop abusing their men,” warns Njoka.
Njoka called the media to highlight the cases in this story involving attacks on men. He says many more men are suffering in silence as they do not want to speak out for fear of stigmatization.
“I urge all of them to come out openly, speaking out is part of healing, and my organization will pursue legal action against women who attack their husbands.” For exposing domestic violence against men, Njoka has become very popular in the country and is often interviewed on television.When Simon Kiguta of Mihuti village, Central Kenya, arrived home drunk, nothing had prepared him for the nasty experience ahead. Before going to bed, Kiguta gave his wife money to buy food. When his wife, Juliana Wairimu, joined him in bed, Kiguta enquired why she had chosen to sleep in clothes. His wife of 12 years did not answer and just got in bed.
Kiguta turned and stretched his hand to make physical contact with his wife. Little did he know he would face the worst of consequences. “She jumped out of bed and took a panga and started slashing my head,” says Kiguta. He ran to his sister-in-law’s home, screaming in pain with blood oozing from his face.
Neighbors came and rushed Kiguta to Nyeri Provincial General Hospital. By the time they arrived he was unconscious and had to be admitted in the Intensive Care Unit. “I am lucky to be alive. I had never imagined that my battles with her would turn that nasty,” said Kiguta at his hospital bed.
Wairimu went into hiding knowing she had broken the law by attacking her husband. However, police caught up with her two days after she had disappeared. Wairimu was charged in court for attempting to kill her husband. She was released on a Ksh30,000 (USD352) bond, pending hearing of the case.
Within the same county, another man is nursing a broken leg after his wife hit him with a stone. The couple had argued over who should take their sick child to hospital when the agitated wife turned her anger against her husband.
It took a human rights activist to convince the victim to speak out on what had happened. At the hospital, records indicate he had fallen on a slippery floor. He only spoke out on the attack by his wife later.
In Kiambu, about 20 kilometers from Kenya’s capital, Ephantus Muriuki is also nursing injuries after an attack by his wife. When his mobile phone rang, he went to check who the caller was and was assaulted. “It was then that my wife started abusing me, telling me it was my prostitutes who were calling. She threatened to kill me,” said Muriuki. He was stabbed in the neck before running for safety. Muriuki was rescued by a prison warden from nearby Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and was admitted at Kiambu district hospital.
When police caught up with Muriuki’s wife, she claimed the husband had failed to come home on the fateful night and had only arrived in the morning drunk.
In Nakuru, Rift Valley Province, Hillary Ngure was burnt with hot water by his alleged ex-lover. Ngure arrived at the woman’s house in Mawanga to collect his money after the two had separated.
“When she opened the door and found it was me, she went back only to splash hot water on me,” said Ngure, at his hospital bed in Rift Valley Provincial General hospital.
Alcoholism is on the rise in most parts of Kenya. With the rates of joblessness very high, many men spend time drinking illicit brew even when they know it is illegal. Lack of jobs has caused poverty levels to rise with one in every six people living below a dollar a day, according to the Ministry of Planning and National Development. It is most often the case where men spend time drinking and then demand food from their wives that then triggers domestic violence.
Rachel Muthoni is a Kenyan journalist. She holds an International Diploma in Journalism and Media Studies and has worked in international and local media for the last seven years. She is pursuing a bachelors degree in Communications and would like to tell many stories about under privileged people to change their lives for the better.