When Jackline Mwende sought advice on her bad marriage, she was given the same counsel many Kenyan women in abusive relationships will get: stay and fight for your marriage.
The first pastor she ran to for comfort and advice on how to deal with the violence in her family advised her to get on her knees and pray for her marriage.
In Kenya’s counselling culture, especially in church, the default approach is to try and preserve the family.
Ms Mwende was married to Stephen Ngila, 34, who is charged with hacking off both her hands because their union had not produced any children.
A hospital in Nairobi told the couple that Ms Mwende was fertile and healthy but her husband had reproductive “issues”.
Pastor Patrick Kioko of Masii District SDA Church on Monday told the Nation that the marriage between Ms Mwende and Mr Ngila had been rosy at the beginning but things started changing towards the end of last year.
Pastor Kioko, who was the best man in their wedding, said: “It seemed there was hope for reconciliation but the man was not ready to mend the union. In fact, he even moved out and rented a room in Masii town.”
He said Ms Mwende was afraid “to be seen as the one who broke her marriage”.
This was escalated to a church hearing because the issues seemed unresolved and the couple was urged to settle their differences and save their marriage.
Pastor Kioko added: “But we noticed the man was determined to leave. So it was agreed that they live in peace in their separate homes and ask the courts to dissolve the marriage. Because, as a church, we don’t end marriages.”
He said the church was planning to bring them together but then the attack happened.
“We were shocked how it turned out even after all the effort we put in. Anger is dangerous in a union and this is something we all should learn from.”
However, according to other relatives, Ms Mwende believed in her marriage and had been advised by another pastor and some of her friends to stay and try to save it.
FROM LOVE TO HATE
Ms Mwende met Mr Ngila shortly after finishing Standard Eight at Kathama Primary School, Machakos County, in 2010, and she says it was love at first sight.
She described her husband as a “kind and God-fearing” man. He was a tailor in Masii town.
“He taught me how to make dresses and clothes. We fell in love during this time and we had a church wedding three months later,” she said.
After making that statement, she moved her bandaged arms over her face and added: “But he gradually became violent and a drunk. He spent more time in Masii town and would come back late at night, drunk and violent. He also chewed miraa. When he attacked me on Sunday, he was drunk.”
And then, in a whisper, she added: “But I stayed because I wanted to save the marriage and my home.”
Tears welled up in her mother’s eyes on hearing her daughter’s determination to save her marriage.
“I pleaded with her to pack her things and leave their home in Ilinge Village because of the constant quarrels, but she said he would change. Then this happened,” lamented Jane Munyoki.
According to neighbours, Ms Mwende’s seven-year marriage had been plagued by constant fights that stemmed from the couple's inability to have children.
Susan Kaloki, a neighbour, came to Ms Mwende’s aid on Sunday night after she was slashed multiple times with a panga and her hands hacked off.
She said this was one of many occasions when neighbours had to intervene and resolve fights.
“They were always fighting. The chief and local leaders were aware and had even tried to counsel the two,” said Ms Kaloki.
When the Nation visited the house where Ms Mwende was attacked, an eerie silence enveloped the three-bedroom brick structure built atop a hill.
The metal door had been locked — by the police, according to family members. We peeped inside, only to behold what looked like a scene from a slaughterhouse.
There was dried blood on the earthen floor where Ms Mwende had been found bleeding. There was more blood on household items inside the house, which has beautiful views of the expansive Masii town below.
“We found one of her arms on the door while the other dangled by the skin,” said Ms Kaloki.
Ms Mwende’s mother said in the Kamba language: “I gave him my daughter, who was complete and well, and now she does not have hands. I hope the government does not release him. I am afraid that if he is let go, I will die of depression.”
Counsellors are divided on the best advice to give people in abusive relationships.
Ken Munyua, a counselling psychologist, said the parties in such a relationship should break up.
“When a relationship is abusive, you should leave and become a survivor of violence rather than stay a victim of violence,” he said.
Abuse starts with little things like verbal attacks, then psychological torture and, ultimately, violence.
“It may even become extreme; today one begins with your face, then your hand, and, ultimately, he will take your life,” he said.
It is difficult for such relationships to work, he argued, adding that in some cases the situation can be remedied with counselling.
“Counselling is the way to go. However, survivors of torture, because that is what abusive relationships are, need to undergo special therapy to heal,” he said.
Another counselling psychologist, Mary Wainaina, said advising a patient to leave is not always the best counsel because if the couple works things out, the counsellor will be to blame for attempting to break them up.
“The best thing to do is to talk to them and let them decide what to do,” she said.
“They know it’s dangerous, but they are suppressing the idea by staying. But once given a choice, when they sober up, they will know it’s wrong,” she said.
She added that many women stay in such unions because they have not been empowered and thus economically depend on their spouses.
“When you leave you can actually make things work, and start thinking soberly. Do not stay in a comfort zone that is uncomfortable,” she said.
You can contact her father Samuel Munyoki on 0720285571 or 0737488464.
Additional reporting by Brian Moseti