Last year, a prominent Kenyan politician reported a case of assault committed by his wife against him. His wife had also reported an assault by her husband earlier the same day. Though the details of their spat still remains sketchy, this incident made the high profile figure a laughing stock on social media and social circles because in most African settings, real men are not supposed to cook, cry and are wired for polygamy. It is also expected that a real African man can never be a victim of abuse by a woman. Men who confess to abuse are viewed as weak and looked at with disdain.
A few years ago when domestic violence was mentioned, the picture of a woman beaten to a pulp always came to mind. Not any more because trends of gender based violence in Kenya are changing and men are no longer the perpetrators but victims too. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 44 percent of men between 15-49 years have experienced physical violence against 45 percent of women, while 21 percent of married men were emotionally abused by their spouses. The rate of violence against boys is at 5 percent and for men at 3 percent. 4 percent of men have also experienced sexual violence.
Many cases like these go unreported hence making it difficult to address this topic due to its sensitive nature. In Kenya the face of domestic violence against men is epitomized in Simon Mwangi. His face neck and shoulders have crisscrossed panga (a broad heavy knife used as a weapon or farming tool) marks as a result of being slashed several times by his wife for coming home drunk and demanding for sex. Mwangi’s wife was charged with murder but later on acquitted due to what the principle magistrate termed as mishandling of the case. The court said it would not jail her out of public interest or sympathy towards Mwangi.
A few years ago Joseph Nderitu staggered home from after a drinking spree and recalled having fallen down after reaching his homestead. His relatives took him to hospital with knife wounds on the neck and shoulders claiming that his wife had brutalized him. Despite all this Nderitu was willing to forgive his wife and settle matters out of court because he still loved her.
Richard Muchiri woke up to a burning sensation only to realize that his wife had poured hot water on him while he slept. The incident left his face back and arms badly scalded. His wife refuted the burning claims saying that her husband went to bath only for her to hear him screaming after falling into the hot bathing water.
In Kenya, the law defines domestic violence as abuse that includes; female genital mutilation; child marriage; forced marriage; physical abuse; sexual violence within marriage; emotional or psychological abuse; verbal abuse; harassment; intimidation; interference from in-laws; forced wife inheritance; virginity testing; widow cleansing; economic abuse; defilement; damage to property; forced entry into the applicant’s residence or any other conduct against a person that may harm or cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person (Section 3 of the Protection against Domestic Violence Act, 2015).
The Act has encompassed the new forms of violence and abuse that have arisen with the emergence of social media as long as the perpetrator is a person with whom you have a close personal relationship. Such forms of violence include emotional abuse, psychological abuse, harassment, intimidation, stalking, verbal abuse and any other conduct against you that may cause imminent harm to your safety, health or well being.
Kenya can learn from the South African Domestic Violence Act which grants temporary protection orders for victims in cases where the offender poses a danger to them. Their law also states that the attacker may be evicted from the matrimonial home and relieved of dangerous weapons. According to the act, the police have an obligation to assist failure to which they can be reported. This is unlike in the Kenyan bill.
The same sympathy and empathy a woman attracts when she has been assaulted should also be accorded to the men too. It is no wonder cases of men murdered by their spouses are on the rise in Kenya. Men being assaulted has been there albeit unreported. Despite the fact that there are laws to help curb domestic violence for both men and women, a holistic approach where schools, churches and other religious groups, traditional institutions, political groups and corporations should be involved hence creating collective responsibility across the gender divide.