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Why women tolerate domestic abuse in Kenya

 Factors influencing women's tolerance of domestic abuse (Photo: iStock)

Domestic abuse remains a pervasive problem globally, with women being disproportionately affected.

According to a recent report by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2022, 43% of women aged 15 to 49 believe that a husband is justified to beat his wife.

The report highlighted eight reasons with 6% of the women agreeing that a woman can be beaten if she burns food, 18% if she argues with the husband and 19% if she refuses to cook.

Another 14% agreed that a beating is justified if the woman goes out without telling the husband, 19% if she comes home late, 24% if she neglects her children, 34% if she is unfaithful, and 13% if she denies him conjugal rights.

The survey also revealed that 51% and 30%, respectively, more people in rural areas agree with wife beating than in urban areas.

In Kenya, like many other countries, women's tolerance of domestic abuse is influenced by various factors as you will read in this article:

Gender Inequality:

Despite progress in gender equality, traditional gender roles and patriarchal norms persist in Kenya, contributing to power imbalances within relationships. Gender-based norms assign women subordinate roles and promote male dominance contributing significantly to women's acceptance and tolerance of domestic abuse.

Traditional beliefs and practices:

Cultural beliefs that perpetuate male superiority and endorse the control of women can shape perceptions regarding domestic abuse. In some communities, cultural norms and practices may perpetuate the idea that a husband has the right to discipline his wife, leading women to accept abuse as a part of their marital duties.

Economic factors:

Economic considerations, such as the dowry system, can create financial dependence on the husband, making it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. Also, limited access to education and employment opportunities can leave women financially reliant on their husbands, making it challenging for them to leave abusive relationships.

Lack of Resources:

Insufficient legal aid, shelter, and support services for survivors of domestic violence can hinder women's ability to seek help and escape abusive situations. Also, women may fear societal judgment, social isolation, or rejection if they disclose abuse, leading them to tolerate the abuse to maintain social standing and family unity.

Weak Legal Framework:

Despite legislation against domestic violence in Kenya, enforcement and implementation gaps remain, leading to a lack of consequences for perpetrators and limited protection for survivors. Furthermore, many women fear retaliation from their abusive partners, including further violence or loss of custody of their children, discouraging them from seeking legal remedies.

Education and Awareness:

A lack of education and awareness about women's rights, gender equality, and alternatives to domestic abuse can contribute to higher levels of tolerance. According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (2022), the likelihood of accepting domestic violence decreases with higher education levels.

Socialisation and Media Influence:

Media portrayal of gender roles and socialisation factors play a vital role in shaping attitudes towards domestic abuse. A study by Kijivu and Muchemi (2019) found that women exposed to more media tend to have lower tolerance towards domestic violence.

Addressing women's tolerance of domestic abuse in Kenya requires a multi-faceted approach. By creating an environment that empowers women and encourages them to reject domestic abuse, a more just and equitable society can be achieved for all.

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