Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-KENYA: Battered Men Emerge From Cocoons of Silence

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Oct 30 2003 (IPS) - For the first time, Kenyan men are admitting that they are at the receiving end of domestic violence.

In Kenya, tradition forbids men from crying or speaking about any abuse administered to them, especially by women.

"Men are not supposed to speak up, not to cry because they will be seen as cowards. As a result, they opt not to come up in the open. Girls or women, on the other hand, grow up knowing that it is healthy to cry and talk openly about being hurt by their spouses," explains Ann Gathumbi of the Coalition of Violence Against Women (COVAW) in the capital, Nairobi.

That tradition is changing.

Battered men have now set up a body to protect them from their spouses. The organisation, ‘Men for Gender Equality Change Now’, was relatively unknown in the country until a dramatic case of a desperate man, seeking assistance, came to the fore. With that, national attention was jerked.

Mid this month (October), a woman from western Kenya was charged for assaulting her husband with whom she has three children. According to medical reports, the man suffered severe wounds on the head and body.

George Angwenyi, who has endured a decade of physical abuse from his wife, has since sought assistance from the ‘International Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya Chapter’ (FIDA-Kenya), an organisation that offers legal aid to women in need.

"I have decided to go public because I can no longer bear the physical suffering. This time she beat me and left me for the dead," Angwenyi was quoted as saying in the local press.

His case followed that of John Irungu, who three months ago sought divorce through a Nairobi court on grounds that his wife was abusing him and that he could no longer withstand her punches.

In the latest spate of violence, Irungu claimed that he was hit by a metal bar by his wife. "As I lay in bed, she entered and hit me on the mouth with a metal bar. She did not explain why she was doing this since she did not talk to me. I have withstood this silently for five years and I don’t want her back," he told the court.

Just about the same time, another victim of domestic violence opted to forgive his wife – explaining that their son was still very young and that his wife had promised not to beat him again.

The woman, Ann Njeri had acknowledged before the court beating her husband for provoking her.

These incidents have boosted the new organisation, ‘Men for Gender Equality Change Now’, whose membership is increasing day by day, says chairperson Daniel Mbekar.

Male battering is on the rise, especially in "urban areas," Mbekar says. His organisation is trying to establish, through research, why the abuse is more pronounced in urban settings.

"Men are being retrenched from their work places day and night, sometimes leaving the family with no breadwinner. If the woman happens to be working, she will provide for the family for some time after which she will get tired, stressed out and pours it on the husband," he adds.

"Also, as women become more and more sensitised about equality, they expect their husbands to perform certain roles which were culturally tagged on the woman. If the man refuses, conflict arises and sometimes translates into him being beaten," Mbekar explains.

According to him, at least five men are battered every week.

The ‘Coalition of Violence Against Women’ says it has handled only three cases of violence against men in the past one year, compared to seven cases of women it receives every day.

Women’s groups are urging male victims of domestic violence to seek help. "It is time to come out of cocoons of silence" and address the issue, Gathumbi says.

"We do not condone any form of domestic violence be it on men or women. Domestic violence is a criminal offence and there is nothing wrong by men reporting their wives, just as women report their husbands," says Joyce Majiwa, FIDA-Kenya chairperson. Her organisation receives 5,000 cases of battered women annually.

To publicise their plight, battered men are organising a continental meeting to address the growing cases of violence against them. The meeting will be held in Nairobi next month.

As well as, the enactment of Kenya’s Domestic Violence (Family Protection) Bill by the government will go a long way in protecting men against the brutality of their wives, Mbekar says.

The Bill, drafted in 2001, seeks to address gender violence.

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