Kenya: Behind the Scars, Nyeri Residents Speak Out
Posted by African Press International on June 26, 2012
< Patience Nyange reporting for API from Kenya.
February 2012 is a month that put Nyeri women stark in the limelight. Several cases of a phenomenon previously told in hushed tones and that posed a perceived threat to masculinity suddenly provoked passionate discussions in the public forum and in the media alike. In that month alone, we heard and witnessed more than three men battered by their wives leaving them in hospital nursing painful scars.
One such case saw Juliana Wairimu, 26, arrested by the police after she allegedly battered her husband in Mukurwe-ini District in Nyeri County. Wairimu is believed to have beaten her husband of 12 years, Simon Kiguta, 40, and slashed him several times with a panga when he came home drunk and demanded for sex.
While it made the news, male beating is not news. It has happened before. But what is it that makes Nyeri County so famous for these misdeeds, many would ask?
Visiting Nyeri town in search of answers behind these scars reveals a complex, ingrained problem that involves a lot more than is revealed on the surface.
“Yes we have cases of women battering their husbands and even chopping their private parts. However, this is not just a Nyeri story; it is a reflection of our society at large. There has been an increase in the number of irresponsible men across the country,” remarked Monica Mwangi a Nyeri resident.
Women empowerment and strong women leadership encourage women to take the lead not only in family affairs but also in business and political affairs.
Such change of trend has continued to be a challenge to many men who still do not believe that women can have a position other than in the kitchen.
As the Constitution provides new rights and new opportunities for women to take up local and national leadership positions or to own land, chances are that friction between men and women will heighten and conflicts will be inevitable.
Nyeri women are no lesser or better than any other women. They too, like their counterparts across the country, subscribe to the fact that times have changed. Things might never be the same again.
“Not all women beat their husbands and those that are being beaten, tayari wamejichapa wenyewe, (have already beaten themselves) they have neglected their family obligations,” said Judy Muthee. She believes that some of the Nyeri men have made a rational decision that all the money they earn, they will use on alcohol at the expense of their families.
“You meet this man on the streets with urine all over his trousers. He cannot even walk back home, so when such a man comes home, he is a child, right? That way he needs to be disciplined like any other child.” She adds.
Other women seem to blame this kind of irresponsibility on the kind of upbringing that these men had. They believe that such men did not grow up with father figures in their families.
According to the Kikuyu culture, just like many Kenyan tribes, women were left in the villages while the men went to seek employment in big towns like Nairobi. Therefore, as they grew up, they saw their mothers as the breadwinners. As a result many did not adapt to the role of providing for the family as solely a man’s responsibility. As much as this could merely be a theory and may not hold much scientific accuracy, the women think it’s the reason for their seemingly comfortable misdemeanor; that women are the heads of families. The changing dynamics on the family structure are just one manifestation of what sociologists claim is the crumbling of the male edifice.
The men have been the principal gender since the dawn of the human race. But for the first time in history, this is changing at a fast rate. “While many people would like to see the negative part concerning the Nyeri women, let’s make it straight, a Nyeri woman is aggressive and this far we have proven that a lady will handle responsibilities better than a man,” said Agnes Wachira.
She continues to add that men are to blame for the continued battering cases. “They should search themselves. Alcoholism has contributed to at least 80% of all these cases. Someone who is drunk cannot be a father, cannot be a role model, cannot reason with you rationally and therefore, cannot perform fatherly responsibilities,” She added.
As we head for elections, many women in Nyeri have publicly declared their interest in various elective positions and fellow women as well as men, are ready to give them the support they need. “As women we have become more empowered, we are more educated and we are focused enough to be able to support one another. Remember this is not a power struggle between men and women, because at the end of the day a politician takes care of all of us so we are not doing this maliciously. I feel a woman will do a better job,” said Judy.
In Kenya and many African societies, men were the bread winners while women were caregivers. As it is now, it is clear that women are taking up both roles; the place of men in the socio-economic dynamic continues to be the big question. If a man cannot provide for his family, then he definitely has no reason to be called the head of the family. Due to this, many Nyeri women reckon that they would prefer to be able to stand on their own.
Beating the only way out
According to Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson Rukia Subow, there is still a great risk for more men to lose this battle to the women because many seem to have clearly forgotten what it means to be a man. “If they cannot be responsible enough, then beating will be the only way to discipline them, but let’s do this with love,” she said.
On the other hand, Maendeleo ya Wanaume Mr. Nderitu Njoka says women are getting blinded by what he calls women empowerment which continues to make women believe that they can control their men. “It is a sad state of affairs. This is a gender supremacy battle. The women are now trying to take up the roles and position reserved for men. They are doing so at their own detriment. ” He said.
Njoka says he does not believe that women are beating their men in retaliation against their husbands’ for abdication of roles as heads of the family. “Many are playing their roles quite well, and we will not allow women to continue demoralizing men. We will do everything to put a stop to this,” he warned.
His sentiments are not taken lightly by Nyeri women who even question his recent activities on his mission to hold meetings with Nyeri men. “Njoka has failed big-time. He is not telling the men that times have changed and they need to grow some horns. These are tough times and tough times call for tough people. Fortunately, only the Nyeri women can survive this,” said Judy.
The women say, while Njoka seems to be making a big fuss out of the Nyeri beatings, many advise that he should change his tactics on how he gets to talk to the men. They argue that while he wants to publicize his meetings on posters and public leaflets, this is counter-productive as these drunken men cannot even read in their state. “What’s the point of wasting money on printing posters. He should go to the villages and talk to these men face to face, from house to house. Let him understand the pressures that these women go through,” said Lucy Waihenya.
According to a marriage counselor Dr. Esther Gikonyo, the dynamic roles between men and women are a complicated scenario as a result of modernization. “It is strange that such things never happened when we were growing up. Where are the family values that our parents held so strongly?” She asks.
She continues to say that the equation seems to be getting more complicated as more and more women seek higher education and many more women continue to get higher positions in the market place. This has given them more exposure and broadened their perspective on what their rights are. The New Constitution has many gains for the women. She however warns that women need not use these rights as a way to fight for their position in life and push for their agenda.
“We must be careful that we do not lose what we fought for a long time,” she warned.