Domestic violence is a bigger problem in Kenya and the Coronavirus pandemic has increased the problem, but not necessarily for the reasons people think. For it’s not about being cooped up together. Indeed, living much more around each other can increase our bonding and closeness. In fact, violence goes up as people’s self-esteem and confidence goes down. Which is a fact that has huge implications for the nation.
As it is, according to government data, more than 47 percent of women in Kenya experience physical or sexual violence, compared with an average of around 30 percent across almost half the countries in the world (a sample of 81 nations).
Our country’s higher prevalence of violence against women has prompted studies such as one in Meru County in 2018 that asked men to record their view of their social status, on a ladder of 1 to 10 from poor to wealthy, and the degree of conflict in their relationships in the past year.
The study found that the lower men perceived themselves to be on the social status ladder, the more likely they were to have been in violent conflicts with their partner.
Not that rich men don’t hit: but they are less likely to, because they feel better about themselves. And multiple studies now show that the more threatened or inadequate men feel, the more likely they are to get into violent conflicts with their partners.
Thus our domestic violence figures show that Kenyan men feel (a lot) worse about themselves than is normal globally.
Now, why is that? For sure, our unemployment is relatively high.
But at the end of 2019, unemployment in the world’s largest economies was running at three to five percent of the labour force, whereas, according to the World Bank, Kenya’s unemployment was 7.2 percent.
However, unemployment in France was 8.6 percent, and in Italy 10.4 percent: thus, Kenya’s official unemployment is not radically high by world standards.
Of course, it is now worse: the number of Kenyan men who have been made redundant or suffered a collapse in earnings during the Coronavirus epidemic has spiralled, and none of them are going to be feeling like lords of the universe.
It is a fact of human psychology that being rendered jobless or incomeless makes any of us feel threatened, at least, and worthless, at the very worst. So that will stimulate heightened sensitivities, and greater reactivity to perceived slights.
But, in that our men already appear to feel worse than our unemployment explains, another driver could be that the nature of our employment is more devaluing than normal.
To look at how relatively rewarding employment is, we can look at a measure called the Gini Coefficient, which measures the distribution of income across the population. The higher a Gini Coefficient is, the wider the gap from lowest paid to highest paid.
And here is where Kenya starts to look more extreme, with a Gini Coefficient of 48.5, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, placing it as the 23rd most unequal country of 157 in the world.
So, many Kenyan men are likely to feel less valuable because we run a society where our CEOs earn over Sh1 million a month and many of our men earn less than Sh20,000 – in short, one of the most unequal in the world.
But there is another factor at play too: for, globally, an estimated 61 percent of workers are in the informal sector, most of them in less developed or emerging economies. In Kenya, more than 83 percent of our employment is informal.
Thus, more of our men earn relatively less than normal, but far more also do it without health coverage or any minimum pay or rights: and there you have a society where more people are less secure and behaving more violently, in the home first of all, and then beyond.
The answer is inclusion, and more progress yet on how we draw the informal sector in to the formal arena – as our foremost way of reducing our escalating human misery, and home violence.