Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It’s our duty to end violence in the family

By NYOKABI KAMAU

On the day we woke up to the news that marathoner Samuel Kamau Wanjiru had died following a domestic quarrel, I was beginning a three-day workshop on gender-based violence at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi.

The participants were mainly pastors and church leaders from around the city and its informal settlements.

As I introduced the workshop, I told the participants that I believed domestic violence had contributed to this death.

I recalled that a former NTV reporter was recently found dead in her bedroom and that her husband has been charged with her murder.

I emphasised the point that these two cases that had come out in the media because those involved were prominent personalities indicated that gender-based violence is a problem that needs to be eradicated by both men and women.

We had a short role play performed by some of the participants depicting domestic violence and its effects.

It depicted a woman who was battered by her husband because she had asked about his affairs with other women.

She was afraid that she risked contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

We had some participants act as a community court to decide whether the woman should go back to her parents or stay with her husband.

Both groups had convincing reasons for their choice. The group that voted for the couple staying together (most of them men) argued that the beatings were a result of small misunderstandings common in marriage that could be resolved through counselling.

They argued that keeping the marriage was good for the children, the woman who was being provided for by the husband, and the society.

But the other group felt that separation, even if temporary, would be a better option, given the risks.

What was surprising was that the debate almost turned violent, with each group insisting that it was right.

Some of the pastors even accused the facilitators of bringing in Western ideologies that were dangerous for the stability of the African family.

They insisted that marriage must be kept at all costs. I was shocked to realise that some people are willing to ignore the vital need to protect life, regardless of culture or religion.

The issue of domestic disharmony between Samuel Wanjiru and his wife Terezah came to the limelight earlier this year, then later we saw them on TV reconciling. But it appears their problems got worse.

Many victims remain in abusive relationships because they feel helpless.

The frequent questions are, “Where will I go if I leave? What will people say? How will I take care of my children?” All these are valid questions.

Many women also find the few services available for people in their situation unresponsive to their specific needs and not offering viable alternatives for changing their situation.

I believe that the government has the responsibility to demand an explanation in cases where a life has been lost.

We need more commitment in seeking long-term and sustainable solutions to the problem of domestic violence.

It is no longer viable to just leave couples to resolve their problems alone, then rush in when it is too late.

Dr Kamau is a senior lecturer at St Paul’s University and a gender consultant.

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