Gender and the battering of men
Cartoonists, bloggers, social media and bar room commentators have had a field day these past few weeks poking jokes at reports of some men from Nyeri, Kenya, being routinely battered by their wives.
Pictures of the battered men, played over and over in the Kenyan media, tell an eloquent story. One victim exhibited panga (machete) cuts on his head with vivid stitches dramatically crisscrossing his face; another was recovering from severe burns after his wife poured boiling water on him; another victim showed lip wounds and lashes on his back after a severe beating by his wife.
It may seem that this is a widely ignored problem as not much study exists to explain it
Tales of male battering are not new in Kenya. At the last count, according to a 2009 survey by Maendeleo ya Wanaume, a lobby group championing the rights of men, more than 1.5 million men in Kenya suffer domestic violence.
According to the survey, men reported insults and rape, and are being forced to cook, wash clothes, clean the house and utensils and baby-sit. The survey shattered the widely held assumption that women were always the victims of domestic violence.
This, however, could only be a tip of the iceberg. To begin with, most are the unreported cases. The idea that men could be victims of domestic abuse and violence is still so unthinkable that many men will not even attempt to report the situation.
Numerous survey-based studies, worldwide, have found that men and women commit domestic violence almost in equal numbers. For instance, a lengthy survey in Britain, published in 2010, indicated that an average of 40 per cent of men suffered domestic abuse. This has been shown to be consistent in other parts of the world.
Rwanda also has its tale of male domestic violence. National Police statistics indicate that 16 men were murdered by their wives between January and August 2011.
A further 21 committed suicide due to stressful domestic situations. The previous year (2010), 17 men were killed by a spouse or lover. Only 14 reported physical abuse by their wives.
What explains this phenomenon of women violently turning against their men?
It may seem that this is a widely ignored problem as not much study exists to explain it. Much of the information on domestic violence against men is anecdotal, though it is as much about gender as it is criminal.
In Kenya, some of the reasons given by women for their actions include infidelity and men neglecting their obligations to the family.
Others include society in transition explanations, such as the changed cultural circumstances in urban situations devoid of the traditional social mechanisms of reconciliation between spouses, often leading to crimes of passion.
It is recognized that domestic violence is often rooted in gender inequality, and that the incidence of the violence is caused by various factors.
These factors need to be better understood in order to address the problem, whether the violence is by men or their women. Raising awareness and enforcing the law is one of them.
As a final note, in response to the Nyeri male battering the Maendeleo ya Wanaume organisation urged men to protest by boycotting their wives’ and spouses’ home cooked meals. Many were scornful doubting the wisdom of such a call.
Some wondered whether it would not make the situation worse between spouses. It is not clear how many men joined the protest, if any.
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