Modern man? Not in Kenya as wife beating goes up a notch

A man engaged in wife-beating. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09 to be released soon found 39 per cent of married, divorced or separated women aged 15-49 have been physically or sexually abused by their husbands or partners. Photo/File

What you need to know:

  • New survey to be released soon says violence against women on the rise

Kenyan men have carried over the bad habit of wife-beating into the new millennium, having managed to beat almost half of their wives — some barely 15 years old.

This shame, currently being discussed behind closed doors within government and donor offices, will soon be laid bare for all when the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics releases the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-09.

But sources privy to the contents of the interim report say that despite modernisation, the Kenyan male seems to be becoming more violent.

The researchers, said to have interviewed more than 8,000 women in 10,000 households, found 39 per cent of married, divorced or separated women aged 15-49 have been physically or sexually abused by their husbands or partners.

The previous report done in 2003, indicated that a third of women had been abused in the past two years. However, going by the current study, violence against women seems to be on the rise.

The women are not just endangered in the home — a significant number of them report to have been sexually assaulted elsewhere.

Reason for divorce

Our source indicated that women, particularly in Nyanza and Western provinces, appear to have a higher risk of violence than those from the rest of the country.

More than anything else, violence appears to be the biggest reason for divorce or separation since majority of women from such unions report to have been violated, especially those with the least levels of education or none at all.

But despite this drawback, some members of the team preparing the final document say that unlike the previous study which was all gloom and doom the new report is a more positive document.

The researchers say that according to the health indicators, there is strong evidence that the decline in the quality of life experienced in the past few months is being reversed.

They point at declining infant deaths as a result of high levels of immunisation, use of mosquito nets and declining fertility rates.

The latter is curious since almost all recent studies have been pointing to increasing fertility rates with some predicting a population explosion by the year 2030.

But the new report, it is understood, puts the fertility rate at its lowest ever, with one woman estimated to get about 4.6 children. Actually, a woman living in Nairobi is most likely to get 2.8 children compared to about six children for their rural counterpart in North Eastern.

If confirmed, this would mean that the country’s fertility rates may be returning to a decline observed in the 1970s. However, it is not clear at the moment whether this declining fertility rate will be reflected when the recent census results are announced.

But one thing the researchers are sure of is that the Kenyan married woman is expressing a strong desire to delay, plan and space her births. Over half of married women, 54 per cent, say they don’t want another child while almost a quarter others want to wait at least for two years before another birth.

Most of the women were found to be using some kind of family planning method, with the injectables being the most popular.

Breast feeding

But it is also regrettable that the majority of these mothers to be, do not get professional healthcare while giving birth though this differs between regions.

In Nairobi, almost all women, 89 per cent, will get some professional assistance while only 25 per cent and 17 per cent in Western and North Eastern provinces, respectively, will do so.

Women are commended for breast feeding their children longer, but they spoil this by introducing complementary foods as early as after four months.

The study is said to have found out that more than 60 per cent of children aged four to five months were already in complementary foods, including plain water or milk.

This poor start and increasing episodes of food shortage explain what happens next — more than a third of children in the country are stunted, a significant number of them severely.

This means a third of the country’s children may never be able to engage competitively with their richer counterparts in education and other progressive pursuits.

According to the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Education for All Global Monitoring 2009 report, about 1.5 million children in Kenya are disadvantaged because of poverty and malnutrition.

The Unesco report says malnutrition is a major barrier to universal primary education in the country. The report calls this an epidemic with long-term consequences on physical and mental capacity and ability to learn.

National epidemic

While the problem is bad in Nairobi, according to the expected KDHS report, with 29 per cent of children malnourished, this figure rises to 42 per cent in Eastern Province. This means almost every other child in Eastern Province is stunted, qualifying this as a national epidemic.

And just like previous reports, the KDHS 2008/09 report is said to have recorded high awareness levels about HIV, but that this knowledge is not being translated into safe sexual behaviour.

Men were found to be more likely, over 30 per cent, to engage in high risk sex compared to women and only a similar percentage reported using condoms during such acts.

But contrary to the growing belief that married couples are now the most active in extramarital sex, the study does not verify this. In fact, says the team, married women and men are far less likely to report having two or more partners in the previous year than are those who have never married or who are divorced, separated, or widowed.

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