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Domestic Violence in the Kenyan Diaspora

By Sheillah Maonga
Gender Advisor and KDRTV UK Correspondent 

A few months ago, news broke that a Kenyan man in Belgium had killed his Kenyan wife over an altercation of sorts.  It was alleged that there was an active restriction order in place issued by the police preventing him from being within so many miles radius of his wife. Somehow, this order was breached and he got close enough to kill her in her home.

A few years back, a Kenyan media personality who had relocated to Australia with her Kenyan husband were charged with the murder of their son. Stories of domestic violence surrounded this saga.
We have many other cases within the Kenyan Diaspora where domestic violence is part and parcel of Kenyan families. It is unfortunate to write this down, but that is the truth of the matter and we have reached that point whereby we need to talk about it; and what better time than now, when we are actively in the heart of the campaign of 16 Days of Gender Activism Against Gender Based Violence, a noble and global initiative that runs from 25th November to 10th December annually. .
We need to talk about domestic violence. Especially in the Diaspora (in this article, Diaspora refers to the West as my research is based in the West). Where already, we are a minority, so plagued with all the challenges that are the mainstay of minority groups. Thus, this problem is often compounded and magnified when it happens in the Diaspora. It is also quite hidden in plain sight, because many believe that some debased things can only happen in Africa, but not in the West.
Statistics in different Diaspora jurisdictions that Kenyans reside  in show that most of the domestic violence in households is committed by the men against the women. This violence takes many forms, including physical, verbal, sexual, mental, emotional and economical.
So, the questions to ask, in this article, are –
Why do these men attack women that they claim to love?
Why do the women stay with these men in spite of the violence?
Let us attempt to answer these questions. They are mere attempts, as I am of the belief that these questions cannot be answered fully by anyone else other than the people involved, and often, the answers are only applicable to an individual as opposed to everyone else.
A. Why are these men attack women  they claim to love?
This is one of the questions that when I asked Diasporan Kenyan men in general, I was given theories as to why the violence happened. ‘Theories’ because all the men that I spoke to have never been violent against their women (they categorically told me this), so their answers were mere speculations. The quest to find a man that would speak from experience proved futile. No such man was forthcoming, even when I promised to keep their identity anonymous.
We have to begin from somewhere so I did note down the answers  I was given, even though they were speculations as opposed to speaking from experience. I’ll share them here with you.
1. The women pushed them to do it.
The men that I spoke to said that domestic violence may have happened because the woman pressed the wrong buttons on the man. Kind of she deserved it. She planted it, so  we let her reap her yield in peace. That some women looked for the violence by their behaviour. The man had no option but to be lash out because of the woman’s actions and manners.
2. The men were showing their authority over the woman. It was argued that the Diaspora emasculated the men while at the same time gave power to the woman. This was not in sync with the Kenyan system which is patriarchal, where the power lies with the man. As such, these men felt that violence was a way to assert their authority and restore the status quo in the home.
3. The men didn’t know that violence was wrong. Yes, this was a reason given as to why men hit their women.  It is because they did not know that violence was a bad thing. To them, violence was an every day thing that was harmless, just like waking up in the morning. It was a non issue, and had its uses within the family. So they had no qualms to use it (violence) when the need arose.
4. The men were stressed and dealing with other pressures. That the men were not thinking clearly as they were dealing with other issues in their lives. So, it was a case of the woman being collateral damage to a problem that wasn’t hers.
As mentioned above, these are suppositions given by Kenyan men in the Diaspora that do not have that experience of being perpetrators of domestic violence.  So, it is pure speculation.  One day, (I live in hope that) men that have first hand information may come out to talk, until then; these speculations will do. I believe that if we get to know why men do it, we may actually unlock the key to getting them to stop doing it in the first place.
B. Why do women stay married to  these violent men?
I asked this question to women who had (and still) experienced domestic violence at the hands of their men. These women were still living together with the men at the time of this interview.  It seemed easier for women to talk of domestic violence than men. I was not short of participants.  (It is funny to note that some of the men that participated in  this exercise were husbands to these women who were victims of domestic violence).
These women gave me their reasons for staying. The reasons were quite uncanny as they looked like they were all reading from the same script yet these women did not know each other.
1. She stayed because she thought the man would change and be less violent in the near future.  She lived in hope.
2.She stayed because they sympathized with the man over the violence. It was not his fault, but hers. Or, he had a bad childhood that damaged him. Or, it was the devil that made him do it. He did not mean to do it, it just happened.  Basically, he was not to blame. He was innocent and just a victim as well.
3. She stayed because he apologized profusely and promised not to do it again. He even bought her a card and flowers and took her to dinner at an expensive restaurant. How could she not forgive him?
4. She stayed because it was not too bad. He didn’t do it daily. He didn’t do it unless he’d been drinking. He didn’t do it unless he was broke. He didn’t do it unless she provoked him. He didn’t do it unless he was stressed. More so, he just pushed her about, never a proper beating. Or; he slapped her; but never kicked or punched her. Or, he kicked and punched her, but never strangled her or put his hands over her mouth or push her down the stairs. Or he never threw her out of the house. Or, he only threw her out during the day, never at night and never in winter. He was not that bad. It could be worse, but it wasn’t. So, it was not that severe enough to warrant breaking up the family.
5.She stayed because of the children. They needed their father. In the Diaspora, children  without fathers fell into all sorts of social crimes, so she reasoned that she better sacrifice her comfort for the sake of securing the future of her children.
6. She stayed because of the stigma of being a single mother. What would people say if she left her marriage!
7. She stayed because people told her to. They coerced her, they persuaded her, they coaxed her, they forced her, they harangued her. These people were the ones she held nearest and dearest and she highly valued their advice.
8. She stayed because she was a Christian and God hates divorce. She took her wedding vows seriously and as such, she would stick it out, for better, for worse, till death do them part. And as it was for the case mentioned earlier, death (of her, by his hands) did indeed do them part.
9. She stayed because she feared being alone. Having him, as violent as he was, was better than being on her own.  She had a huge phobia of being alone. where would she start from?  He was her main support base. She had no one else in the country she was living in. He was her only family. Being a married woman gave her social mileage. Being alone, she feared, would make her a social pariah.
10. She stayed because she had an image to protect.  She was a celeb of sorts back home, among her friends and relatives. Being in the Diaspora placed her on a pedestal that she harvested so much social capital from it.  She capitalised this awe that people bestowed upon her for living in another country.  How now could she confess to them that her husband was violent. That was just too humiliating and she feared she would lose value in people’s eyes. Apropos opting to stay put in the marriage for the sake of keeping appearances.
These reasons does make one think and the task is upon us to find a way of addressing this vice once and for all.  It is immoral to be violent to your spouse and worse when you do it in another country where you are supposed to be a brand ambassador for our country.  This has to be stopped somehow.  That’s why we start by talking about it. We need to take domestic violence out  of the private walls of the home and place it squarely in the glare of the public realm.  That’s the first step in tackling it.
In my next article I will look at the ramifications of domestic violence to the Kenyans in the Diaspora. Watch this space.

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