A Sad Fact of Life?

I read an article recently about a food boycott in Kenya by men protesting against increasing domestic violence against them. It has been a week since National Women’s Day and it has been a month since I began to reel at the hypocrisy of this information.

The men’s lobby group, Development for Men, called for a six day boycott of meals cooked by wives and partners to highlight what it says is increasing domestic abuse of men. This made the news in the UK and why not? It’s a serious problem that should certainly be tackled. However, the issue of violence against women is a much larger problem and yet, even at a time when awareness women’s rights is heightened, there were no reports of the millions of female domestic abuse cases that are happening on an hourly basis around the world. This story was of interest because it is so unusual to hear of female violence against men. It should be cause for concern that stories of domestic violence against women are so common place that the issue is no longer of interest to the media.

In 2011, Development for Men conducted a survey of central and Nairobi provinces, which have a combined population of more than seven million people. It found that up to 460,000 men had suffered from domestic abuse. This survey focused on the worst affected areas of Kenya: the central provinces such as the Murang’a county, which has attracted the most attention on this topic. If we assume that half of the seven million people in these central areas are male then the report shows about 13% of the male population in these areas have been abused by their partners.

I can appreciate that reports of abuse against men will be much less than the actual figures due to the notion of weakness associated with being beaten by a woman. The same can be said for reports of violence against women, perhaps more for reasons of fear and denial than pride. Yet the evidence that Development for Men has suggests that, in the worst cases in Kenya, 13% of the male population have been affected. A staggering 75% of women in Kenya as a whole reported domestic abuse in 2008 which puts the scope of male abuse into perspective. The group protested against the increase in violence against men yet a Gender Violence Recovery Centre in the same area reported a 35% increase in numbers of female victims from 2006 to 2007 and a further 10% increase in 2008. The trend is the same for both sexes, the female problem is considerably worse and yet the male problem made the headlines.

In India 70% of women and 90% in Pakistan are victims of domestic violence, may saying it is common and often justified. In 2004, a UK report recorded that 45% of women and 26% of men surveyed had experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Furthermore, the survey revealed 89% of victims that had experienced more than four incidents of violence were women. Research has shown that men are less likely to be the victims of repeated domestic assault, they are less likely to be seriously injured and they are less likely to feel fearful in their own homes. The British Crime Survey of 2006-07 reported that 312,000 women and 93,000 men were victims of domestic abuse. In a country where gendered violence is socially unacceptable, illegal and well controlled compared to the majority of countries, women are still more than three times more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than men.

The sad truth of the matter is that women have been suffering for centuries from physical, emotional and sexual abuse by men, some losing their lives. Yet most incidents never make headline news. A small percentage of men in a relatively small country have admitted to being abused and all of a sudden there is an uproar.

An interesting comment was made that linked this type of reaction to that of apartheid. Black people were subjected to endless abuses and injustices by white people for centuries. It was so common and widespread that is was acceptable. Yet when a black person retaliated, like the ANC bombing of white-controlled public places in South Africa, the world was outraged. Although domestic abuse is unacceptable in most cultures, the abomination is so common place that it is easy to let slip as a sad fact of life. Yet the sudden awareness of abuse against men in a small area of Kenya has made global news.

I am in no way condoning the abuse of men by women; both partners should have equal respect for one another. What I am saying, however, is that while we may be shocked at this unusual news, let us become even more so at the normality of abuses against women that occur every day and go unnoticed.

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