By Henry Onyango
When I meet 38-year old Rebecca Achieng’, she can hardly talk or even see where she is going. She walks along the corridors of the buildings in Kawangware 56 slums in Nairobi in pain.
Her face bears scars from stitches not yet healed from a beating she got from her husband who accused her of cheating.
“I was sitting in my house preparing supper for the family when I heard him shout my name from a distance. He was already drunk. He pounced on me with kicks and blows telling me to pack my things and leave the house. He even snatched the knife I was using to cut the vegetable and tried to stab me in the stomach while my two little girls watched. I was able to escape, otherwise he would have killed me,” Rebecca says in an interview with CISA.
She says that her neighbours ‘minded their own business’ while the battle raged only springing into action after she emerged from her house bloodied and appearing to be on the brink of death.
Today Rebecca still lives with her husband, and is lucky to be alive to tell a story that has now become a statistic to the women and men who lose their lives in the hands of their spouses.
Her case is just a tip of the iceberg of many Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases experienced amongst partners living together or in relationships in Kenya today.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Household Survey report 2014 (KDHS), 45 percent of women aged between 15-49 years have experienced physical violence, while 39 percent of married women have experienced physical or sexual violence compared to 44 percent and nine percent of men respectively.
Esther Kisaghu, founder of the Rose Foundation, an organization that deals with cases of Gender Based Violence in Kenya, understands the cruel realities of domestic violence as it strikes a deeply personal chord within her.
She is a survivor of domestic violence, and knows just how harrowing an experience it can be.
“For the abused spouse, mostly women, the decision to walk away is never easy, especially where a child is involved,” she says.
“If a woman stays, the society judges her for exposing her children to violence. If she walks away, the society says that she should have held on for the sake of the children. Perhaps the question we should be asking is, “Why don’t abusive men walk away instead?” she poses.
She points out that women often experience extensive psychological torture, which translates to low self-esteem, depression, and even mental illnesses, which makes them incapable of making sound decisions.
She says that the best way to help a person in such as situation, is to extend to them compassion and support, and link them with gender violence centers that offer rehabilitation.
Zeinab Hussein, Public Service, Youth and Gender Principal Secretary, says that sexual and other forms of gender-based violence comprise not only of rape and attempted rape, but also sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, forced and early marriage, domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation.
According to Siddharth Chartterjee, UNFPA Representative to Kenya, the GBV scourge in Kenya is unacceptable and therefore needs everyone to stand up united in addressing the issue and empower women.
“Women’s empowerment encompasses their sense of self worth, access to opportunities, access to and control of resources, choices and the ability to exercise them, control over their own lives and influence over the direction of social change,” she said during the women empowerment forum in Nairobi.
She said that women have both a right and an obligation to active participation in all leadership positions including the political leadership and must never be afraid to make efforts in grabbing the positions.
“Kenyan women leaders have made some significant difference in shaping and advancing the gender agenda,” says Chartterjee adding that “It’s important to note that women’s leadership not only aids in building nations but also helps to balance up decision making process such as issues of education, health, gender violence, and democracy among others which are of great concern to women leaders.”
Corrie Mwende, a volunteer with the UN Women in Kenya notes that GBV should not only be associated to women as men too suffer the consequences of battering by women.
Corrie adds that the society must equally sensitize men on issue of Gender based violence adding that some of them are victims of the assault while others are generally perpetrators of the vice.
“This is not only something that faces women only, men also suffer. They get battered and other human beings deem them as weak. This culture of encouraging violence all in the name of discipline is something that will continue to escalate the rotten society we are making it to be. I never understand why people fight to solve issues,” says Corrie who has been a victim of Gender Based Violence.
A survey released by National Crime and Research Centre (NCRC) in April 2016 showed that cases of gender violence against men had increased in the last year.
The report which targeted 819 respondents (656 female and 163 male) in 13 counties (Northeastern counties not included) said current prevalence was 48.6 percent for men and 37.7 percent for women.
NCRC Principal Researcher Stephen Muteti says this is consistent with the common belief about increased vulnerability of men as reported in the media.
“More men than women reported GBV to be bodily harm inflicted by woman on man and psychological harm inflicted by woman on man. This reflects a gender bias in which women trivialize the experience of men and cultural change in which men admit being victimized by women,” he said during release of the report.
Dr Christopher Hart, a psychologist specializing in relationships agrees with the call for equal legal protection for both men and women saying men probably are abused just as much as women in the home, but were less likely to admit it because of their pride.
“Kenyan women are probably no more vulnerable than men; the men would just not admit it,” he says.
He says that most of the aggressors in domestic violence have a history of abuse, perhaps going back into childhood, suggesting those who witnessed battery as children are likely to be violent when they grow up.
He adds that alcohol abuse, isolation, a lack of resources and a wide difference in incomes were the other contributing factors.
“That tends to mean that it is worse in urban areas and in more economically stressed households. It could also be that people in urban areas are more aware of their rights and thus more likely to report,” Dr Hart told The Daily Nation Newspaper.
Esther notes that due to the Protection against Domestic Violence Act of 2015, there is seemingly light at the end of the tunnel since police are now mandated to deal with such domestic violence cases more effectively than before.
“However, more needs to be done by the government to keep the vice in check and rehabilitate the victims,” Esther said in an interview with CISA
She proposes that the government sets up shelters for children and spouses affected by domestic violence in every county including food vouchers and employment agencies that exclusively cater for the victims. Apart from this, the society and the government should offer more robust and effective ways of dealing with the gender agenda in order to save millions of families still suffering in silence due to the effects of Gender Based violence in Kenya.