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Domestic Violence: A Conspiracy for Silence

I can tell when a woman is suffering. I can see it in her face. She is distant or is slowly detaching from friends and family. She is scared of telling, because she knows she will crawl back. She has nowhere else to go.

Nancy Wanjiru is one such woman. She has suffered violence. One moment she cries on the shoulder of friend, pouring out her ordeal. She gets plenty of advice, and finally decides on a course of action. She will leave her partner, carrying the kids along. But it is only a matter of time. She will soon return to her lavish, yet abusive life.

Her husband is a wealthy influential member of society. But he is unfaithful to her, and batters her whenever she probes about it. So what if he has another wife? As depression sets in, she silently suffers. She feels trapped, blaming herself.

In Kenya, domestic violence is not criminalized. Domestic violence remains deeply entrenched through rites and traditions that are not only physically and psychologically harmful, but which also instil the perception that women are objects to be used and abused. Bride price and wife inheritance are two such traditions, which contribute to increase in marital rape, and the overall poor economic status of women.

Bride price, widely practiced, is paid in exchange for a wife. What was once a token of appreciation is increasingly being comercialized. Parents sell their daughters at exorbitant fees. In turn, the husband views the bride as a commodity!

The girls cannot return to her home when all hell breaks lose! Her family will have used up the money or cattle that was paid.

Wife inheritance is a tradition whereby a woman who loses her husband is "inherited" by his family. She is given to a brother of her late husband. This is irrespective of her feelings, or his HIV- AIDS status.

It cannot be denied that the adoption of the Sexual Offenses Act (2006) was a tremendous step forward in the fight for women’s rights in Kenya. But, its enforcement is flawed. Sadly, due to social stigma, fear of reprisal, ignorance of the law and personal rights, insensitive medical procedures and mismanagement of court cases (Ochich & Aukot, 2008) very few are officially reported or successfully tried in court.

Yes, wife beating is considered acceptable. It is a "sign of love"-a fools love! Religion and tradition demand that women "submit" to their husbands. The police and local administrations dismiss beating as a "private matter". I can't let this happen to me.

As I grew up, I saw women in my family denied a fulfilling marriage-life. Worse, I have an uncle who batters his wife and blames her for it. Two months ago, my cousin was found beaten to death, in her house. If only someone had intervened, whenever she complained of continual battery by her husband!

I resent chauvinist men. I see them as the source of so many of women’s problems. Even the most educated of our men, expect total submission. Watching women’s lives fall apart can drive you crazy. At Mathari Hospital in Nairobi, I have seen depressed women erroneously termed insane.

So how can we decrease the suffering of Kenya’s battered women?

At Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), abused women find refuge. We offer them free legal representation and counseling. But it is difficult to get the men to come. We often use letters to demand that they appear for mediation, or suffer a law suit. Some relationships have been restored, but most importantly the victims are able to confront their perpetrators in a safe environment and find redress. By encouraging more women to speak out against violence, I have seen them receive psychological support, and heal.

At CREAW, we are also engaging fathers and sons, through sensitization workshops, in order to have them shift from retrogressive ideas. This is crucial because some are the perpetrators themselves, and may socialize their sons to become abusers. We need to break the generational transmission of these behaviours.

I desire a Kenya where all communities advocate for the long-overdue Domestic Violence Bill (2000). If enacted, we will be another step closer to setting our women free.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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Comments

Nusrat Ara's picture

Well done !

Well done !

Nusrat

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

thank you Nusrat... Your

thank you Nusrat...

Your support is overwhelming.

Lots of love,

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Dando's picture

wonderful work!

you have really done a wonderful job with your oped.

Keep it up.

With LOve,

Dando

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

thanks girl, I will keep

thanks girl,

I will keep working harder...

love,

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

jodelight's picture

good work

dear Stella,

Thank you for sharing this information with us. It is important for the world to hear. Every voice is powerful and invokes change. Keep sharing with us.

in solidarity,
jody

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

thanks Jody, I appreciate you

thanks Jody,

I appreciate you comments...

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

jadefrank's picture

Legal action

Hi Stella,

This is a great Op-Ed and a powerful glimpse into the grave issue of domestic violence in Kenya. It reminds me that creating laws is only half the battle. Changing public opinion and enforcing laws is what's needed in fighting domestic violence to protect women and their rights. Having rights is not the same as enjoying them.

I admire and support organizations like CREAW who are working so tirelessly to empower women with moral support and the legal tools necessary to fight gender discrimination.

Are you familiar with the Global Justice Center? They are an excellent resource for International legal help in fighting gender abuses. They put together a manual that CREAW might find useful as a reference tool. You can download it here: http://worldpulse.com/pulsewire/solutions/11886

Thank you for writing this powerful piece!

Hugs,
Jade

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

Thank you JadeFrank, I'm have

Thank you JadeFrank,

I'm have visited the site and will definitely put the resources to use in our programs.

Many blessings...

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Sunny_sunshine_cloudy_Mina's picture

Keep it up!

This type of abuse can only go for as long as people ignore it. More and more cases go on reported. No one has the right to get hit at all. We'll all get better together.

"Fight fire with fire, you'll end up with ashes."
"A charming lady does not follow the crowd, she is herself."

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

true true....

thanks Sunny! YOU ARE SO RIGHT.

I want to see more women love themselves so much, that they "break the silence".

I appreciate you taking time to read my article,

love

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Juana K's picture

Excellent Article

Hi Stella,
Congratulations on your article; you write with much passion! and clarity I work in the area of domestic violence and sexual assault and it is always reassuring to hear from other workers around the world. Your story inspires me to not give up the struggle and to remember that I am not alone!
Thanks again,
Juana

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

you are not alone......

Hi Juana,

I am so glad that despite our diversity, YOU we are working for such an important group of women.
I appreciate you passing by and for cheering on our efforts in Kenya.

All the best,

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Jennifer Ruwart's picture

Your work is important

This is a strong op-ed. I really felt your commitment to this cause and your belief that there is a way forward. That any man thinks hitting a wife is a sign of love is a belief that must be changed. Juana's comment reminds me that like a baby learning to walk one step at a time, so to will change happen one woman, one man, and one marriage at a time. And not necessarily all together.

Jennifer Ruwart
Chief Collaborator
JR Collaborations

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

thanks Jennifer, I totally

thanks Jennifer,

I totally agree...

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Pascaline's picture

keep going girl

Tell our story and do not falter....proud of you.Women deserve a break-a big break...go girl!

I believe in every woman's heart and soul.

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

Pascaline... I will never

Pascaline...

I will never stop!! thanks for taking your time to listen,

Many blessings

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Greta's picture

Hello Again Stella

Today is my day to revisit the op-ed pieces. You have done a great job Stella, I sit here somewhat mystified by the fact that so much pain, violence, and unacceptable tragic situations are still so common. The introductory paragraphs to your piece and the accompanying photographs are a powerful combination in raising awareness of the silent suffering.

While reading the responses to your posting, I realize the power of your voice and the power in the union all of our voices. The work you do at CREAW will indeed lead the way to setting women free.

I honor you and the work you are doing,

Be Well,

Gretchen

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

Hey Greta, Thank you so much

Hey Greta,

Thank you so much for re-visiting my piece. I appreciate your affirmation and encouragement.

Indeed, women continue to suffer all around us, but in silence. I guess our cultures have a lot to do with the situation of women, in Kenya.

Nevertheless, I find joy when couples are able to be saved from pain or suffering. This is why I love to work at CREAW.
Many times, organizations working on Women Empowerment have been accused of breaking families (in Kenya). But we have few success stories (although most are "beyond repair"), and they fill me with joy because bringing a smile back to a woman reclaims what her mother lost and ensures that her daughters (the next generation) are living free of discrimination and violence.

THAT'S MY JOY- to see one woman (at a time) change.

Regards,

Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

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