The Star (Nairobi)

1 December 2012

Kenya: The Ugly Face of Gender Violence

Traditional gender violence is emotional and physical usually experienced under family surroundings due to disagreements ranging from inheritance, property to suspected infidelity.

This violence is meted out to women by male relatives such as husband, brother-in -law, brother, and even by a son. The basic rational is that in a patriachal system, power and control is vested in "the" man in the family irrespective of his age.

Thus it is within his prerogative to ensure any threats to land, property or even the women in the family are met with as much force and firmness as he deems necessary.

The woman victim of such violence is many times illiterate or semi-illiterate and economically disadvantaged without any means of seeking redress.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has however brought on a new dimension to gender violence. This is evident in the increase of sexual abuse targeted to even very young girls and old grandmothers.

Today, it is no longer enough for thugs to rob or car-jack, they go a step further to rape their women victims. This violence is related to myths that suggest that an HIV positive man having sex with a virgin or sexually inactive woman will "offload" the virus to the woman and leave him free.

Thus, the increased demand for four year olds girls and geriatric "cucus". Another type of gender-based violence related to HIV/AIDS is right within the marital bed.

Here, wives are not able to protect themselves from infection for they lack power to negotiate for safe sex. Urban-rural transmission of HIV is well documented in immigrant workers lifestyle.

As the economic crunch bites, it is highly unlikely that a husband will visit his rural home and his wife more than once a month.

It is also highly unlikely that this man will abstain from sex for the whole month and wait for month end when he visits his "shags".

In the village however, the situation is different for the wife is under scrutiny and watchful eye of her in-laws headed by her mother-in-law.

Any wayward thought even lacks opportunity for expression. By the way where would a village wife engage in sex with a neighbor?

His house, her house or the maize plantation? Within this background and knowledge, the wife patiently waits for the end of month and is not even empowered enough to suggest and negotiate for safe sex.

If she as much as suggest condom use, this is viewed as evidence of infidelity on her part or insubordination and contest of the husband's right to have sex when and how he demands.

"Can the condom pay school fees for the children?' This wife must then adopt the "submissive wife" mode for social and economic survival otherwise who will provide for her and her children?

This submissive mode also allows her to submit to non-conventional sexual overtures on demand. These "special services" include anal, oral, dry as well as sex during her menses.

Again the wife is not in a position to negotiate and choose to reject sexual methods which are basically meant to increase male sexual satisfaction without regard to increased risk of HIV transmission.

The husband who is custodian of authority and power in the family is therefore justified to insist on his sexual preference for his satisfaction irrespective of risk to his wife.

Gender violence is also engrained in traditional and cultural customs and is related to HIV infection.

Think of female genital mutilation of young girls not old enough to know the purpose of their genitals!

Of a six year old girl married off to a man old enough to be her great-grandfather as a tenth wife. Of wife inheritance irrespective of the consent of the widow or due regard to what killed her husband.

And of course polygamy and multiple sex partners for "which cock has one hen"? Aids has a female face for 57 per cent of all those infected are women.

The majority of those affected are also women for it is the woman who is the care-giver for her infected husband, child, brother or sister. Gender violence is also basically a female phenomenon.

It is woman who is physically and emotionally abused for lack of knowledge, support and economic power to access fair treatment and seek redress.

It is thus providential that World AIDS Day is celebrated at the end of 16 days of Gender Violence for these two ills in our society are closely linked.

If by the end of this period, men are sensitized enough recognize that the woman at risk of both of these ills is your grandmother, mother, sister, daughter and your very precious granddaughter, then the campaign will not have been in vain.

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