By Wachira Kigotho
Today fewer men in Kenya think it is right to beat their wives than it was a decade ago. Correspondingly, even less women are willing to gracefully accept their blows.
At the beginning of this Millennium, two thirds of Kenya men believed that wife battery was justified, even for flimsy reasons. A wife would be beaten if the food she was cooking slightly burned, or if the she answered her husband back.
Thirteen years on, this has changed significantly with only 45 per cent of men saying wife-beating is justified. With this development, it is now safer to be a wife, a girlfriend, or even a mistress in Kenya, especially when compared to Tanzania.
This year’s Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) notes that in the three traditional East African countries, the most violet place for a wife to live is Tanzania where seven in 10 husbands believe it is okay to beat their partners. According to a survey published in the current issue of the American Sociological Review, 45 per cent of Ugandan men see nothing wrong with a wife being punished now and then.
The study reviewed data from 26 countries. Fourteen of these countries were in sub-Saharan Africa and included Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali and Nigeria. Other surveys were conducted in Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
According to study leader Dr Rachael Pierotti of the University of Michigan, the situation is much worse in Nigeria where 81 per cent of married women report being verbally or physically abused by their husbands. Forty-six per cent reported being abused in the presence of their children.
But the situation has started to change with more men rejecting domestic violence, especially in Nigeria where 65 per cent of men recently said they were opposed to wife beating compared to 48 per cent in an earlier study conducted in 2008.
Dr Pierotti says there are significant changes in global attitudes towards domestic violence, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is only in Madagascar that most men thought it was necessary to unleash domestic violence on women on a regular basis.
Women are in most instances assaulted by their husbands or girls beaten by their boyfriends for very flimsy reasons such as if the woman went out without informing her male partner or if children were left unattended.
Dr Pierotti says women in sub-Saharan Africa are frequently beaten by their partners if they refuse to have sex with them, argue with them or even if they burn food.
For instance recently, a man in the town of Gweru in Zimbabwe bashed his wife and threatened to stab her with a knife for refusing to teach him how to open a Facebook account. He also demanded to know what she was posting on her Facebook page.
Dr Tom Ondicho, a research fellow at the Institute of Anthropology, University of Nairobi, says that in the past domestic violence was embedded in the culture of silence, but in recent decades, the issue has emerged as one of the most widespread and frightening problems in the region.
In this regard, Dr Ondicho seems to differ with Pierotti that wife beating in Kenya or elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa has subsided.
“There is an underlying consensus that the incidence of wife beating has increased substantially in the last few decades,” says Dr Ondicho in his study on battered women in Nairobi.
But there is general consensus that attitudes on wife beating in recent times has changed as a result of disintegration of traditional socio-cultural norms that “regulated” wife-beating.
But whereas Dr Pierotti views wife-beating in a sociological perspective, Dr Ondicho thinks this battery is motivated by a man’s urge to retain the traditional position of power and authority over women, even as modernity opens up opportunities for women folk.