News / Africa

Cases of Domestic Violence Increase in Kenya

Experts say poverty, alcoholism and gender roles encourage abuse

Cases of Domestic Violence Increase in Kenya
Cases of Domestic Violence Increase in Kenya

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Medical and human rights groups in Kenya are reporting an increase in cases of domestic violence. Experts say the increase could be due to a rise in violence, more reporting of domestic violence or both. Life with an abuser can mean frequent batterings and persistent fear.

Florence Wanjiku lived that life for 10 years with her husband, an alcoholic. She describes one drunken night. "He went to the kitchen, grabbed the wooden spoon, came with it, started beating me up the way you beat a little child, using a stick or something. But unfortunately he hit me so hard it broke on my scalp and my scalp got a cut. It was so deep that I had to be stitched eight stitches around here," she says.

Reported cases, like Wanjiku's, are on the rise in Kenya, medical and human rights groups say.

Teresa Omondi is program manager at the Gender Violence Recovery Center in Nairobi Women's Hospital. It treats victims of domestic violence. "We have had a drastic increase of numbers. We started from around 299 in 2006, then we moved to 412 in 2007, then in 2008 we had another 400 and over," she says.

Domestic violence has been a long-standing problem in Kenya, particularly in rural areas.  Deeply engrained beliefs about gender roles and marriage have encouraged the practice, says Ann Njogu, executive director of the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW).  "In a patriarchal society, domestic violence is actually recognized as one way of disciplining one's wife. In fact, even the society socializes you as a woman to anticipate this discipline. It is so deeply inculcated in many peoples' minds. We have women who say, when they have not been beaten, their husbands have stopped loving them," she says.

Experts are divided over statistics that show domestic violence is on the rise - and what they mean.   

According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 39 percent of the women surveyed said they were abused by a husband or partner.
 
But a 2008 report by the Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya, or FIDA, says  almost 75 percent of women they surveyed reported being abused.

FIDA executive director Patricia Nyaundi explains. "The rate of domestic violence is higher than what is reported. Based on our own experience, if you ask a woman, 'Have you ever been beaten,' she will say 'No.' (But) if you ask, 'Have you ever been verbally abused,' she will say, 'Yes, occasionally.' We had a study that also dealt with issues around frequency. Some women will say, 'I've just been slapped once, so I don't know about domestic violence.'"

Experts also disagree on the reasons for the recent increase in reported cases.    

FIDA's Nyaundi says more women are coming forward because more are aware that violence is wrong and that it's more than just physical, and more believe that it is acceptable to walk away from an abusive situation.

But other experts say domestic violence is occurring in more households because poverty and alcoholism are increasing.

Teresa Omondi of The Gender Violence Recovery Centre. "Every single day our statistics show a minimum of eight new cases - not that someone was sitting in their homes and then they heard about this centre and they thought of something that happened to them two years ago and they think, 'now I should report.' It means it happens on a daily basis," she says.

Ann Njogu of CREAW says her organization encourages men to tell each other that domestic violence is wrong and must stop.

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