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Should battered men go public or suffer in silence?

ILLUSTRATION/ JOSEPH BARAZA
ILLUSTRATION/ JOSEPH BARAZA 

I have been reading stories in the local press about men being beaten by their wives — and going public about it.

I am not sure whether this helps the men to heal emotionally, or whether it is going to subject them to ridicule.

My feeling is that it might do more harm than good to their well being.

What is your take doctor? Should they speak out or take the beating in silence?

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One of the most misunderstood and often abused concepts in African traditional beliefs in the act of men beating or “disciplining” their wives.

Today, many are horrified at the possibility that one adult (male) was permitted by custom to beat another adult for any transgression the man felt demanded such a beating.

My understanding of African customary law is that the most basic of rules in the relationship between men and women is that of mutual respect in marriage and total acceptance of the different and complimentary roles that each plays for the interest of the family and community.

In his classic book, Facing Mt Kenya, the late president Jomo Kenyatta comments on this issue.

“When a wife is ill-treated by her husband, she has the right to return to her father for protection,” he wrote.

“Among the Gikuyu, divorce is very rare because of the fact that a wife is regarded as the foundation rock on which a homestead is built.

"Without her the homestead is broken and therefore it is only when all efforts to keep the husband and wife together have failed that an action of divorce can be taken,” he added.

Bedrock of society

My reading of the foregoing is that traditional society recognised women as the bedrock of society and any attempt to suggest that men were allowed to beat women at will fails to recognise the central role they played as wives and mothers.

We get another glimpse of the nature of the relationship between men and women from the writings of Wole Soyinka
Chume, a character in The Trials of Brother Jero, seeks crooked Prophet Jeroboam’s permission to beat his wife.

This comical scene tells us a great deal about power politics between men and women of the day.

Like some Kenyan men of today, Chume is described as a “tame, henpecked husband” who is transformed into a dominant male by permission from Jeroboam to beat his wife.

In the Kenyan context, alcohol would seem to be the agent that transforms meek men into agents of domestic violence.

In many cases, it is the same excessive consumption of alcohol that leads to the same men being beaten up.

Another inspirational work on the subject is Rebecca Njau’s book, Kenya Women Heroes and Their Mystical Power.

In the scholarly work, Njau dispels the myth that Kenya women are meek, weak, and a form of chattels.

She tells the story of Phoebe Asiyo, the first elected female MP in Kenya — and more significantly the story of her grandmother, Odete Maguu.

Maguu was a warrior who fought side by side with men using spears, bows, and arrows.

Challenged Njuri Ncheke

She also tells of Ciokaraine M’Barungu who challenged the dreaded Njuri Ncheke’s authority.

In answer to your question, I have referred to books in the hope that they offer more light in this discussion.

We should not trivialise the issue of domestic violence, which not only affects men and women, but also their children.

You are among people who have failed to look at the relationship between men and women in a broader way.

History and culture have shown us the role women play in society and our constitution recognises this by requiring more equitable distribution of positions in the management of public affairs.

Rather than worry about whether going public helps heal the fragile egos of men beaten by their wives, we should engage in a more mature debate on what it is that causes our society to tolerate such violence.