The curse that is domestic violence —- By Wanjala Wafula

9 Aug

Recently, the Coexist Initiative, an organization that I founded about ten years ago published the 2012-2013 domestic violence report whose content warrant this elaborate rejoinder. The report unveils that domestic violence is one of the leading epidemics facing families, women, girls, boys and lately men in Kenya. The report asserts that reported and documented cases have gone up by 100% in just one year making 2012-13 the most vicious year in Kenya. A total of 36,000 cases were reported compared to 17,000 in 2011. What is most horrifying is the brutality involved in the majority of these cases.

Brutal expressions of masculinity remain widespread with a 2012 Future Concern report revealing that violence against women affects one in three women in Kenya[1]. A current World Bank report confirms that women between the ages of 15 and 44 in Kenya are at a greater risk of rape or violence than cancer, malaria, war or car accidents. I have over the years insisted that domestic violence commences when one partner feels the need to control and govern the other. This is frequently as a result of low self-esteem, intense protectiveness, difficulty in regulating rage and other strong emotions. I have spoken to thousands of abusers across Africa who confessed that they abuse their partners because they feel inferior in education and socioeconomic conditions. I intermingle with numerous other men and boys with very traditional beliefs and who think they have the right to control women, and that women aren’t equal to men. I recently met five women serving a three year sentence for battering their husbands.

The report rightly acknowledges that domestic violence takes the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Studies suggest that violent behavior often is caused by an interface of situational and person factors. That means that abusers gain knowledge of violent behavior from their family, people in their society and other cultural influences as they grow up. I have learned that we socialize boys to be violent and we compel girls and women to remain silent and tolerate it. They may have seen violence often or they may have been victims themselves.

 Children who witness or are the victims of violence learn to believe that violence is a reasonable way to resolve conflict between people. I grew up in the villages of Bungoma County in Western Kenya and I know firsthand what witnessing violence at an early age can do to children. While growing up, we were taught that women and girls are not to be valued or respected. At one point, I heard a man say that women and girls have less value than the goats and cows with which they use to pay their bride price. Boys who see violence directed against women do the same when they grow up. Girls who witness domestic violence in their families of origin are more likely to be victimized by their own husbands. The report quotes a women who confirms that “violence is part and parcel of being a woman and wife in Africa”

Alcohol and other chemical substances whose use has been declared a national disaster are directly contributing to violence both at home and in public spaces. I hold believe that alcohol does influence the user’s competence to distinguish, assimilate and process information. This misrepresentation in the user’s judgment does not cause violence, but amplifies the risk that the user will misconstrue his partner or another’s activities contribute to aggressive conduct. A drunk or high person will be less likely to control his or her violent impulses.

Here are my ten commandments of eradicating violence in our homes and in public spaces. I do not however claim autonomy these ideas as other have dwelt with the subject on the past.

  1. Treat gender violence as a MEN’S concern by involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Look at men and boys not only as perpetrators or potential criminals, but as authoritative eyewitness who can tackle cruel mates
  2. If you know anyone who is violent to their female partner — or is ill-mannered or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. You should never ever remain silent
  3. Let have the audacity to look inward. Let’s question our own attitudes. Let’s not be defensive when something we do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might involuntarily perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help immediately.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. 
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. 

The  writer  is  a  Founder  /  CEO  of  The  Coexist  Initiative,  a  not  for  profit  synergy  0f  men  and  boys community‐based  organizations  committed  to  eliminating  all  forms  of  Gender  based  violence  in  Kenya. Visit    http://www.coexistkenya.com    or    email    Wafula@coexistkenya.com‐    facebook‐wanjala    Wafula‐ skype: coexist.initiative.  Tel:  +254712653322


[1] Future concern, gender analysis 2012

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