Why are Kenyan men killing their women?
By Evelyn Makena and Sandra Wekesa @evemake_g and @AndayiSandra
She was meant to celebrate her 25th birthday, a day after her life was brutally cut short at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret.
The mid-morning brazen attack was carried out by a rejected and crazed lover, who armed himself with primordial hunting tools— an axe and knife— hunted down and killed Ivy Wangeci, a sixth-year Moi University medical student. It was shocking; a murder most foul.
The cruel irony of where she lost her life was most poignant. It was the hospital where as a medical student together with her colleagues did round checking on patients— and saving lives. At same facility, her attacker, the life of 28-year-old Naftali Kinuthia, who had been set upon and beaten to near pulp by enraged members of the public, was saved by the doctors, and perhaps, Ivy’s colleagues.
Ivy’s death came just a month after Phenny Bosibori was shot dead by her husband, a police constable at Soy Police Station. Her crime: taking too long to open the door for him. And like a bull in a China shop, he blast his way into the house and after the sound of the gunshots had died down, Bosibori, 42, a mother of two, lay dead in a pool of blood.
According to police who collected the body and evidence on the carnage, seven spent cartridges were recovered at the scene. Bosibori, too, joined the growing statistics of the 28 women killed by intimate partners in the last four months.
A month before Bosibori’s murder, a 28-year-old pregnant woman was brutally killed by her husband of four years in Kahawa Sukari, Nairobi. Beryl Adhiambo Ouma succumbed to her injuries after hours of sustained assaulted.
According to neighbours, she allegedly declined help from those who had responded to her anguished cries. To some, her screams were normal “ husband and wife quarrels.”
But this wasn’t the usual Beryl cry— it her last because she succumbed to injuries suffered during the brutal beating. Postmortem results showed she died as a result of strangulation.
She had also suffered head injuries after being hit with a blunt object, not once, but at least six times!
And last Sunday, Grace Kagure, a resident of Pipeline, Embakasi, was stabbed to death by her live-in boyfriend. The early morning incident, shattered the illusion of their seemingly perfect life when neighbours woke to screams from Kagure. A peep through the window revealed her naked on the floor, with blood oozing from different parts of her body and beside her stood a naked James Wambugu with a knife in hand.
Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the killing of women or girls, femicide is mainly perpetrated by men, but sometimes, female family members may be involved.
“Femicide differs from male homicide as most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner,’ WHO says.
A preliminary report of an ongoing study by the health body and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine indicates that 35 per cent of all murders of women globally, are committed by an intimate partner. The same report shows that an intimate partner commits only five per cent of all murders of men.
Data from a 2018 report by the United Nations United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show that 137 women are killed everyday across the world by a partner or a family member. The report shows that 87,000 women were killed intentionally in 2017.
More than a third of these women, 30,000, were killed by their current or former intimate partner. In Africa, women run the highest risk of being killed by an intimate partner, with a rate of 1.7 murders per 100,000 people.
Data from the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital confirms the risk that women face from intimate partners. As per the domestic violence cases reported at the facility from January to December 2017, eight out of 10 victims of physical intimate partner violence were women.
In all these instances, the perpetrators were the women’s partners. The centre attended to 1,129 cases of women assaulted by intimate partners in the same year.
Young women—aged between 25 and 35— are most at risk, with a majority seeking medical attention at the GVRC for injuries ranging from bruises, cuts, lacerations to more severe burns, fractures and deep cuts that require specialised inpatient care.
The UNODC report indicates that the killing of women by an intimate partner was not a spontaneous but rather a culmination of previous incidents of gender-based violence.
Jealousy, fear of abandonment and infidelity suspicions featured as some of the commonest motives for killings.
In a majority of the cases, the women are in an abusive relationships where they suffer physical or psychological abuse or both.
In Kenya, current partners top the list of perpetrators of gender-based violence at 56 cases against women, followed by former partners at 28 cases, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014.
Reasons for murders
Incidences of intimate partner violence have been attributed to high levels of stress in a population where people lack proper problem solving skills. Among the reasons men involved in intimate partner violence usually give to justify their behaviour are infidelity, economic pressure and stress, according to Steve Mbuthia, a Certified Professional Life Coach.
“Yet despite experiencing such difficult situations a man has a choice on whether to react violently or not. Venting your anger on a woman because she is an easy target is an act of cowardice,” he says.
Mbuthia attributes the rise in femicide to tolerance of the problem by the society and failure to become proactive enough in solving it. “We see statistics of women that are killed everyday; get agitated for a few days and soon it’s business as usual. There has not been a tangible commitment by society to address the vice,” he adds.
University of Nairobi sociologist Dr Mumbi Machera, attributes the rise in gender-related homicide to society’s ‘normalisation’ of domestic violence. This is what happened to Beryl.
For four hours, neighbours ignored her screams and cries for help when her husband of four years started beating her with a belt. The neighbours dismissed the assault as “husband and wife quarrels” and did not respond as they considered this to ‘be normal’.
Dr Machera also links the violence to the deteriorating mental health. “Due to factors such as chronic drug abuse and stress, there are more cases of mental conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety,” she says.
Socialisation and gender inequality is also a factor. According to Dr Machera, African society has portrayed masculinity as strong, rough and aggressive. This kind of socialisation has especially played a role in high cases of domestic violence against women by normalising the behaviour.
Women are taught to endure pain and some stay in abusive relationships that eventually lead to their death at the hands of intimate partners.
In a statement sent to newsrooms following the murder of Ivy, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), Executive Director Wangechi Wachira condemned normalisation of violence against women on social media and other public spaces terming it as dehumanisation of the victims and as being insensitive to their legacy and the trauma of those affected.
“It creates a culture of victim shaming and blaming which permits violence to thrive. Love is not equal to death. This has to come to an end,” read the statement in which she called on the government to declare femicide a national crisis.
Call for change in law
Unfortunately, according to Equality Now Human Rights lawyer, Naitore Nyamu, Kenyan law does not distinguish between femicide and murder. She places the blame on lack of political goodwill and the slow turn of events in relation to amendment of law, for example, sexual harassment and sexual offences had always been prevalent in the country, but it was not until 2006 that sexual harassment was recognised as a crime for the first time.
“The law needs to call this epidemic of femicide by name as it is greatly nuanced. The gender-neutral terms “murder,” systematically ignores targeted violence against women and therefore femicide should be a separate category,” says Nyamu, adding that the country needs a section in the Penal Code that specifically criminalises femicide and classifies punishment as life imprisonment.
“Murder is the intentional and unlawful killing of any person. Femicide is generally understood to involve the intentional murder of women and girls because they are women and girls. It is usually perpetrated by men and in most cases, it is committed by partners or ex-partners and involves ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner,” she says.
Nyamu adds that the best way to protect women against femicide is by reducing sexual and gender-based violence according to WHO recommendations. She recommends research with a focus on perpetrators, potential perpetrators, and victims so as to understand the needs of survivors and characteristics of perpetrators and also to shed light on risk and protective factors that may prevent femicide.
“There needs to be increased awareness of femicide. As a result of the unfortunate killings of women this year at the hands of disgruntled men, there is heightened awareness and conversation on femicide, which goes a long way in eradicating complacency and ignorance that aids gender-based violence,” she says.
This story was produced in partnership with Code for Africa’s iLAB data journalism programme, with support from Deutsche Welle Akademie