The excessive and pervasive violence against women that we are now witnessing is not only unprecedented but can be attributed to the state of the economy and levels of unemployment among men.
Even though violence against women is present in all socioeconomic groups, evidence suggests that men who live in poverty or are socially excluded are more at risk of perpetuating violence. Economic stress brought on by joblessness, and feelings of social exclusion can lead to anger, frustration, and violence.
Evidence shows that women whose husbands are employed or gainfully engaged are significantly less likely to report domestic violence (physical) than women with unemployed husbands.
Similarly, women who are employed or financially stable but whose husbands are unemployed are twice as likely to report physical violence.
Today, more women are finding jobs and are less financially dependent on their husbands and male partners. Evidence across the world shows that a decrease in female unemployment relative to male unemployment challenges the culturally prescribed norm of male dominance and female dependence.
Where a man lacks this sign of dominance, violence may be a means of reinstating his authority over his wife. Thus, male partner employment plays a major role in the risk of violence, and that women whose male partner is not working are at the highest risk of violence.
But that is just half of the story. Violence against women and other forms of family violence tend to occur in all social and economic groups.
Violence and abuse can be found among matatu touts and drivers, physicians, watchmen, lawyers, the employed and unemployed, the rich and the poor. This fact leads some people to conclude that social factors, especially income and employment, are not relevant in explaining violence against women.
However, although violence against women cuts across social and economic groups, it does not do so evenly. The risk of violence against women is greater among those who are poor, unemployed and hold low prestige jobs. The reason for this boils down to social stress. The more stressful experiences individuals and families face the greater the likelihood of the occurrence of some form of violence.
A few days ago, Kenyans watched with feigned disbelief as David Nzomo brutalised his wife Winfred Mwende at Kyaaka village Makueni County. Days later, Edna Kemuma’s hand was severed by her husband in Kisii County.
Before the dust had settled, Naftali Luzuli was arrested for viciously clobbering his pregnant wife, Valarie Masibo, for serving food late.
Why do I call the anger and feverish debate displayed by Kenyans on social media ‘feigned’? It is feigned because at every level of our social fabric, society is socialised to condone violence against women and girls.
Global statistics on violence against women show that, on average, 35 per of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by someone who is an intimate partner or sexual violence by someone who is not a partner. Furthermore, as many as 38 per cent of all murders of women are committed by male intimate partners. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
This figure does not even account for all the other forms of violence against women and girls such as sexual harassment and abuse, repugnant cultural practices and the damage to children and extended families, and the anguish and psychological trauma that can last for years.
Against the backdrop of Nzomo’s outrageous violence against Mwende it is in order to interrogate the drivers of this bizarre behaviour from a sociological perspective.
The core of the Sociological perspective is the underlying principle that social structures shape people’s lives and behaviour. In addition, the structure of social institutions also influences social behaviour. In the case of violence against women, the structure of the modern family as a social institution has a strong overarching influence on violence against women.
Violence in intimate relationships follows the same general patterns with regard to age as does violence between nonintimates.
The rates of violence – both victimization and offending – are highest for those between ages of 18 and 30 years. Violence against women is generally a phenomenon of youth. Thus, explanation of violence against women needs to consider issues such as life-span development, stage in the family life cycle and human development if explanatory models are to reflect accurately the relationship between age and violence against women
The data on gender based violence is very controversial. Some students of gender based violence, especially those who use a feminist perspective, argue that females are vastly disproportional victims of gender based violence. Their point of view is supported by data on wife abuse derived from shelters and other helping agencies.
However, others argue that there are far more women using violence toward men than data from institutions indicate.
The jury may still be out on this issue but the data do suggest that males are the more likely offenders and females the more likely victims of gender based violence, consistent with a gender pattern of interpersonal violence found in other settings and groups.
The writer a sociologist and a governance consultant based at Pwani University.