In Kenya, violence against men rises

By ABDI LATIF DAHIR  |  June 8, 2012 at 6:53 AM
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NYERI, Kenya, June 8 (UPI) -- Nyeri town, a picturesque expanse of tea and coffee farms about 100 miles north of Nairobi, is known for its connections to many of Kenya's most famous people.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, and four-time Boston Marathon winner Catherine Ndereba all call Nyeri home.

Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, a man who once wrote "the nearer to Nyeri, the nearer to bliss," is buried here in a pristine plot in the shadow of Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa.

But in recent months, Nyeri has become the epicenter of a troubling social phenomenon: male battering.

A recent survey of Central and Nairobi provinces by the male advocacy group Maendeleo ya Wanaume ("Progress for Men") found 460,000 cases of domestic abuse against men, up from 160,000 cases in 2009.

Men such as Simon Kiguta, who appeared stricken on the front pages of newspapers with machete cuts, and James Ndung'u, who suffered a broken leg after an alleged fight with his wife, have highlighted the gravity of a situation that has left academics and policymakers squabbling to find an answer to a problem that has all but divided the country along gender lines.

"These are symptoms of a deeper issue," Gachanja Kiai, a gender and development studies lecturer at Kenyatta University said. "In a patriarchal society like this, people feel threatened by the issue of battering."

Many women have responded defensively to the news and statistics. They say the rash of domestic violence reflects deep-seated frustration with husbands and fathers they often describe as dead-beat. The chairman of Maendeleo ya Wanawake -- "Progress for Women" -- in Kiswahili, publicly stated that men who don't provide for their families should be beaten.

Nyeri-native Carol Wairimu, a seasoned taekwondo coach, said that though she has had it out with her husband on numerous occasions, she has never lifted her hand to beat him.

"Growing up, I can't recall any case of a woman beating her husband," she said. "What is going on is a generational decline."

Wairimu and her husband divorced after eight years of marriage.

The rise in the incidences of male battering dovetails with an increase in alcohol dependence among males aged 25-34. In a recent national survey, many males in the age group stated they consumed illicit brews in the hours before noon, which historically are considered the most productive hours of the day.

"Women have been very persevering," Kiai said. "This is like taking a bull by the horn."

The result: deformed faces, broken legs, burnt bodies and chopped private parts.

Some say male battering is spreading to other towns in Kenya. John Kamau, a motorbike-taxi operator in Nanyuki, a budding market town about 40 miles northwest of Nyeri, says men in this town are also beaten but they don't talk about it openly.

"It isn't only in Nyeri," Kamau said. "Men are also beaten in this part of the country. I have friends I work with who are beaten by their wives. And it mostly happens when they are drunk."

Because of the social stigma surrounding the issue, men often hide in shame.

"Male patients are admitted and claim that they were assaulted by thugs a night earlier," said Kimani Mwago, the medical superintendent at the Nyeri Provincial General Hospital. "They don't say who did this to them. We find out about the story in the newspaper the next morning."

As more men fall back into the vicious cycle of drinking and unemployment, women have been replacing them in the work force. Many join women's fund groups, take on loans to start small businesses, finance their children's education and move to towns in search for better investment and work opportunities.

"Many of these women work very hard," said Catherine Mambo, manager at the Nanyuki branch for the Kenya Women Finance Trust. "They are very responsible and their default rate for loans is almost zero."

Mambo's organization gives loans totaling $100,000 every month to more than 150 women, with the ownership of a business that generates income being the only condition to secure a loan.

The issue of male battering has even seized the interest of comedians and cartoonists who have used it to poke fun at Nyeri women. Panga Puff Girls, So You Think You Can Fight, My Knife and Kids and Survivor Nyeri, all a variation of U.S. television shows, are but some of the few descriptions of Nyeri women making the rounds in Kenya.

Academics like Kiai say the issue reflects how a fundamental schism in Kenyan families and the need for a more reflective intervention.

"It took this country a bit too long to realize that there was a problem," he said. "We need a forum to deliberate on the root causes of this issue. You can't have a growing society when we are this fragmented."

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