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Suffering in silence: No sympathy for battered men here

Monday October 14 2019

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Men in Nairobi were found to be 11.3 per cent more likely to be battered by their wives than men living outside Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SIMON MBURU
By SIMON MBURU
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Simon Kiguta was heavily drunk when he arrived at his home in Mihuti village, Nyeri, on the evening of February 7, 2012.

He dug out Sh250 from his pocket and handed it to his wife Julia Wairimu. “Buy food for the children,” he said and went to bed.

Wairimu was incensed. The money was too little. To make matters worse, Kiguta had spent the day drinking away money that should have gone towards the family’s upkeep.

Later that evening, Wairimu hopped into bed fully dressed. Kiguta was startled.

Despite his misdeeds, he had expected to cuddle the night away with his wife. He attempted to but his wife wanted nothing to do with him.

When he persisted, his wife angrily jumped out of bed and grabbed a panga that lay near the bed. She then pounced on Kiguta, seething with rage.

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She slashed him on the head several times and took off. Neighbours who heard Kiguta screaming for help found him in the house bleeding profusely.

SUFFERING IN SILENCE

They rushed him to Nyeri Provincial General Hospital, where he was admitted at the Intensive Care Unit.

Kiguta, a father of two, suffered deep cuts on his face, head and shoulders. The following day, the country woke to a shocking photo of Kiguta on the front page of the Nation.

The 40-year-old would go on to become the face of domestic violence against men in Kenya.

And for the first time, the subject of gender-based violence (GBV) against men was publicly discussed, an issue that dominated social media, bar talk and village barazas.

Kiguta’s case brought to the fore the rarely talked about reality of violence meted out on men by their wives.

Unlike Kiguta, whose case went public, many other Kenyan men suffer violence and abuse in their homes in silence, in most cases due to the stigma attached.

GBV against men cuts through professions, regions and academic achievements.

Figures from the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey in 2016 showed that men living in Nairobi and other major urban areas are at a higher risk of suffering domestic abuse than their counterparts in rural Kenya.

DYNAMICS

Men in Nairobi were found to be 11.3 per cent more likely to be battered by their wives than men living outside Nairobi.

This report also showed that there is a pattern in how abuse is perpetrated against men.

For example, the report pointed out that Christian men, men with five or more children, and men who were previously married were more likely to have experienced domestic violence.

Men who reported having significant wealth and men who were not educated were the least likely to suffer from domestic abuse and violence.

Consultant psychologist Ken Munyua says this may be because wealth can be used as a tool of power and control.

“As for uneducated men, they are more likely to be married to uneducated women, who think it is okay for a woman to be hit or that it is not okay for a woman to hit a man,” he explains.

The report further showed that Nyanza, Nairobi and Western regions lead in cases of domestic violence and abuse for both men and women.

Sixty per cent of men in Western and Nairobi were undergoing a form of spousal violence or abuse, while 56 per cent of men in Nyanza were at risk and/or already suffering domestic violence.

Some 48 per cent and 43 per cent of men in the Eastern and Central regions, respectively, reported domestic abuse and violence.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE
Nationally, 10.9 per cent of married men aged between 18 and 54 had suffered either physical or sexual abuse.

In the same year, a secondary study report on violence against men, "Gender Based Violence in Kenya", that was conducted by the National Crime and Research Centre (NCRC) in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Machakos, Nakuru, Kiambu, Meru, Samburu, Nyeri, Vihiga, Kisii, Busia, and Migori counties, showed that the likelihood of men to suffer domestic violence was 48.6 per cent.

This report showed that men in Kiambu, Mombasa, Busia and Vihiga were particularly facing increased cases of abuse.

The report noted that the most common description of what constitutes gender-based violence was bodily harm.

Section 3 of the 2015 Protection Against Domestic Violence Act declares that domestic violence and abuse includes damage to property, economic abuse, harassment, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual violence within marriage, interference from in-laws, intimidation, stalking, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse.

While most cases of abused women involve physical abuse, cases of men in abusive relationships and marriages hardly involve battering.

Interviews with family therapists and psychologists suggest that men suffer from emotional abuse more than physical abuse.

“From the cases we handle, domestic violence towards men is mostly psychological and emotional,” says Grace Kariuki, a family therapist in Nairobi.

RIDICULED
Where physical violence has occurred, most male victims will not be quick to report or declare publicly that they are in physically abusive unions.

This is largely due to the ridicule such men are subjected to — they are viewed as weak, henpecked and incapable of leading.

Take the case of politician Moses Wetang’ula, for instance. In 2017, he became the butt of stereotypical jokes and ridicule after he reported being battered by his wife.

This incident happened in the midst of the General Election, and a number of Kenyans on social media wondered how he expected to lead Kenyans if he could not “govern” his own home, (read wife).

One Kenyan, a woman for that matter, Njoki Mburu (@kojbaby) posted: “Wetang’ula beaten by the wife and couldn’t even keep it within the family, so much for a wannabe president.”

But it is not just ordinary Kenyans who ridiculed him — his fellow politicians did not allow the moment to pass, not even Deputy President William Ruto, who labelled Wetang’ula “Yule jamaa wa kuchapwa na bibi!’ (that man who is beaten by his wife).

“The society is generally hostile towards battered men,” says Kariuki. “If a man comes out to say he is being battered, the reaction will be that he has been ‘sat on’, as Kenyans are wont to say, or is a weaker male. The damage to his ego and self-esteem becomes nearly irreparable.”

CONTROL TOOL
This is echoed by psychologist Munyua, who says that the cultural belief in a hyper-masculine society is one of the contributing factors to men’s suffering violence at home.

For example, the NCRC report showed that 7.4 per cent of men will report sexual violence at home in contrast to 15.2 per cent of women.

In the case of Kiguta, the victim was blamed for being a weakling and an embarrassment to manhood, a man who could not “handle” his wife.

Munyua adds that there are men who suffer in silence because they are afraid that the cycle of violence will become uncontrollable if they react or hit back.

“There are cases where some abusive women use GBV as a tool to silence the men they are abusing,” he says.

“For example, an abusive woman will slap her man and threaten to scream that he is battering her if he reacts in any manner. The man will opt to stay quiet because no man wants to be labelled a wife batterer in this day and age.”

Although data on domestic violence against men remains scarce in Kenya, a report from the gender violence hotline 1195 — which is managed by Healthcare Assistance Kenya and the Gender Affairs Ministry — shows that cases of domestic violence have been on the rise.

For example in January 2018, 357 cases of domestic and gender-based violence were reported.

Between November 2017 and January 2018, 222 cases were reported in Nairobi alone. Of these cases, 11 were reported by male victims.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

In the same vein, data from the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) shows that nine per cent of ever-married men have experienced physical violence, four per cent have experienced sexual violence and 11 per cent have experienced both physical and sexual violence from their partner.

It also says that at least one in five men in Kenya have experienced an episode of sexual violence before attaining age 18.

A related 2018 report from the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) further indicates that cases of domestic violence hit a five-year high in the first six months of 2018.

The Fida Legal Aid Clinic announced that it handled 2,182 domestic violence cases between January and June 2018. This was an increase from 2,028 cases that it handled in 2017.

The socio-economic status of men in abusive households is also a contributing factor to domestic violence.

For example, the 2017 study "Cases and Incidences of Violence Against Men in the Township Ward of Nyamira County", Kenya says that socio-economic characteristics are major determinants in the type of violence that men in Kenya suffer.

“Age, education level, income level, nature of employment, and marital status significantly influence the extent of violence that men suffer,” the study says.

INCOME

This study was conducted by researchers from Egerton University and published in the journal International Academic Journal of Law and Society in 2017.

The researchers further noted that most abused men will suffer emotionally, sexually, physically and verbally.

These researchers suggested that the likelihood of domestic violence goes down when the ratio of household income to need goes up.

As happened in Kiguta’s case, this study singled out alcohol consumption as a key contributor to domestic violence against men.

“Heavy consumption of alcohol increases not only the risk of violence but it is also a contributory to violence,” the study said.

“The vulnerability of male victims increases should they consume alcohol and/or use drugs to the extent where their own judgment is impaired.”

Apart from battering, some men have also had their genitals chopped off by their aggrieved wives.

In August 2018, Esther Namale chopped off her husband Godfrey Namale’s manhood when he returned home drunk.

“I went out for a drink after work,” Namale said. “When I returned home, I went straight to bed. I was awoken by severe pain in my genitals. I saw blood oozing from my private parts. My wife stood next to me with a blood-stained kitchen knife in her hand.”

EXPENSES
The two had been married for 22 years and lived in the Mukuru Kayaba slums in South B, Nairobi.

The costs and consequences associated with reporting cases of domestic violence also play a part in keeping abused men silent.

For example, the 2016 National Gender and Equality Commission report, "The Economic Burden on Survivors", estimated that by that year, domestic violence towards men, women and children altogether was imposing costs and losses of up to Sh40 billion on survivors and their families.

This money was lost to medical expenses, legal fees and expenses from reporting to police, chiefs or community leadership.

Also factored in was productivity loss from minor and major injuries for survivors and family. At the time, this was equivalent to about 1.1 per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP).

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