Nyeri County is in the spotlight once again for the troubling social phenomenon that is domestic violence against men. Media reports in the past few weeks have sprung up of men having their genitals chopped off following domestic disputes. According to the press, both victims are still alive and undergoing treatment at the Nyeri Level 5 Hospital.
The mainstream media has been extremely irresponsible in its reporting of the incidents. As a trusted source of news and information, it is their duty to provide fair and balanced coverage of important stories, especially those that affect the society as a whole. While there has been focus on the incident, it has been misdirected. Rather than having an in depth look at what is happening and why, the media has chosen to focus on negatively stereotyping women from Nyeri as demonstrated by the hashtag #nyeriwomen. They are being stereotyped as violent, uncontrollable and unmarriable. The hashtag is also harmful to men, as it mocks the victims for being ‘weak’ and requires them to ‘man up’. A Google search will generate results from entertainment sites that laud the entire thing as ‘hilarious’.
Mwende Ngao addresses this in her post, ‘The Kenyan Media Has Got It Wrong On Gender Based Violence‘,
Domestic Violence is no laughing matter. It is not funny when the victim is a woman and it is still not funny when the victim is a man. The Protection Against Domestic Violence Bill that was recently signed into law offers protection for victims and as a country we should be looking to have sober discussions on the issue and not make light of it. The media cannot be part of those gawking and being entertained by what is a serious matter. They should be objectively leading the discussion instead of lazily putting out stories and hashtags that vilify all women from Nyeri and make it impossible to have sober conversations.
Mainstream media is proving that not all coverage is good coverage, since most of the articles and commentary around it is cringe worthy and makes one wish they had never bothered to read it. Some news anchors and radio presenters have made jokes about the incident, either falsely categorising Nyeri women as ‘violent’ or mocking the victims for not being ‘man enough’. These conversations are not helpful but rather reinforce negative gender stereotypes about men which also devalue femininity (for example, calling them women as if it is a derogatory word.) The inaccurate reporting does not help address domestic violence against men but creates a vacuum for male victims. This victim blaming sends a message to the male victims of domestic and interpersonal violence that their plight will not be taken seriously, which also reduces their likelihood of them speaking out, or seeking help. Stereotyping the women also might aggravate the situation as it may provoke discriminatory and retaliatory violence against them.
There is a great need to explore the root causes of domestic violence against men especially in Nyeri County which is a recurring issue. Statistics released in 2011 shows that 460,000 men from Nairobi County and Central Kenya region were victims of domestic abuse which ranged from physical to mental and emotional abuse from their wives.
Studies have shown that domestic violence is more than 3 times as likely to occur when couples are experiencing higher levels of financial strain than when they are experiencing low levels. Men are traditionally perceived as the breadwinners and financial success is often tied to their masculinity and perceived social status. However due to the stresses of the recent economy and the increased cost of living & unemployment, men end up turning to alcohol, which is readily available in the form of illicit brews. This prompts women to take up the role of provider for the livelihood of the family, and in extreme cases, cater to his destructive lifestyle. With the emergence of women’s funds groups such as the Uwezo Fund and others, women take up loans which enable them to start small businesses and move to larger towns to seek better job opportunities.
Women’s increased literacy and grasp of financial know-how improves their bargaining power and position in the household. Husbands with lower educational attainments and low income statuses are more likely to perpetrate violence against their spouses, as they may view their empowered wives as a threat to their own status. On the other hand, it may turn the wife against her husband, who may see her acquired role as breadwinner as a good enough reason to mete out abuse. This is abuse, as she has not empowered herself but simply taken up an abusive role, which is demonstrated by the breadwinning men who abuse their wives.
These and other reasons are exactly why we must have a sober discussion around domestic violence. We must understand why this is happening and why it is so common in Central Province. It is also key that we look into other areas which might undergo the same problems but are underreported as we change the attitude that leads them not to be reported. This means that the society should also champion the fight against domestic violence by speaking out harshly against it instead of making silly jokes. Domestic violence affects both men and women therefore it is not only feminists who should speak out nor should anybody wait on them to do so. We are all capable of making our own statements against domestic violence and it is only when we all take it seriously that we can do something about it.
A gender balanced approach to domestic violence is essential in order to reduce the frequency of these horrifying cases. As we continue to embrace the Digital Age this provides opportunities to tailor technological innovations to address the needs of domestic violence victims as well as survivors.