CORONA SIDE-EFFECT

When home is hell: GBV cases explode

Many women have become the collateral damage of the war on Covid-19 following the stay-at-home directive and loss of jobs

In Summary

• Four women narrate the physical and psychological abuse they have endured 

• Latest data shows 114 cases of GBV between March and April following confinement

Figurine of an abused woman
Figurine of an abused woman
Image: PIXABAY

When she enters the room and sees my male photographer, she immediately kneels down and bows her head as she greets him. 

"That is what I am used to, a sign of respect," she says as she gets up to greet the rest of the women in the house. 

Mia* (not her real name) has been married for eight years to her husband Jay*, and they have three children. She touches her face as she describes how unrecognisable she was a few weeks ago because of constant beatings from Jay before their break-up earlier this year. 

 

If they went a day without violence, it was a good day for her.

"It was little things such as asking why he did not come home, where he slept, why he did not leave any food for the children or talking back at him that would cause him to beat me," she said. 

Mia used to work as a house manager before she had to be laid off due to Covid-19. Her husband left her and the children about three months ago after a fight.  

"Life has become difficult because now I do not have a source of income and we used to depend on him. He works in construction, but he had not been providing," she said. 

In their last fight before he left, he made quite a spectacle.

"He came home drunk, my children and I had no food. I asked him where he was and that is when the violence started. After beating me, he started breaking utensils. He tore our mattress and clothes, leaving me with nothing."

Having had enough, she decided to report him to the village chairperson.

"He was warned that I had the option of taking him to the police station and that is when he left and I haven't seen him since," she said.

 

"I do not want him back because my life is more peaceful now, my scars are healing."

 

SEX ON DEMAND

Nancy*, 29, and Nathan*, 30, have been married for three years and have a three-year-old together. 

When the government issued the stay-at-home directives, she and her husband found themselves spending a lot more time together in the house. 

"That is when he started demanding sex from me three times every day, and when I refused, the violence started," she said. 

Nancy sells vegetables while her husband works in the construction industry.

"He does not always provide food and I have to go all the way to Kiambu to purchase my vegetables," she said. "When I come back late, he will also beat me, asking me where I have been."

During one fight, Nathan broke her ribs and she had to seek help from her neighbours because she is scared of going to the police. 

Apart from the physical abuse, she is also a victim of psychological abuse, especially when she denied him sex. 

"He started telling people my vagina is loose, ni shimo, but he still insists that he wants sex three times every day, whether I want it to or not," she said.

Her neighbour also told the Star they have tried to advise her to seek help but she is scared of what he might do to her.

"She comes and tells me what has happened and I offer her support and advice but in the end, she goes back to him," the neighbour said.

TODAY, YOU DIE

Her life was flashing before her eyes as she choked her and told her today was the day she was going to die. Ironically, her neighbours who were right outside were more interested in the show than in helping her.

Mary*, 36, had been living cordially with her neighbour Jane* and they were even in the same chama group together. 

"I was doing some work cleaning clothes when she came and asked me if I would go visit her when I was done," she said. 

Mary used to work in Eastleigh, but since the partial lockdown in the area, she has resorted to 'vibarua' around her neighbourhood to provide for her four children. 

She was unable to visit Jane that Thursday, and she went to her house the next day after completing another job at a hotel.

"Initially we discussed contributions in the chama and I explained my situation to her and said I would give more money when I got some because right now things are hard," she said. 

After that conversation, Jane asked Mary why she had been spreading rumours about her.

Confused, she asked her what she meant. "I heard that you have been telling people I am a drunkard and the children I have do not belong to my husband," she said. 

As they were talking, trying to get to the bottom of the situation, Jane locked the door from inside. 

"She then pulled out electrical wires and folded them together, then placed two knives on the table and told me today was the day I was going to die," she said.

"She said the only way I would escape was by admitting I was the one spreading the rumours."

Jane was constantly hitting Mary with the wires before she took a knife and placed it on her neck. 

Her other neighbours outside Jane's house were simply peeping, daring not interrupt what was happening. 

"It took the intervention of some NYS officers, who broke the door and saved my life. I was taken to the hospital," she said.

When she took the matter to the police, she was told there was nothing they could do at the moment. 

A man comes home drunk and starts an argument
A man comes home drunk and starts an argument
Image: PIXABAY

BLAME THE ALCOHOL

Ivy*,30, was not working when the Covid-19 pandemic started and was being supported by her husband, Carter*, 46. 

"He was working as a security guard but last week, he was suspended from work because of the coronavirus. He now drinks daily," she said. 

Ivy believes her cycle of abuse under her husband may be caused by an obsession with her.  

"If he were to walk in this room right now and see me sitting beside him (the photographer), he would be furious and start accusing me of cheating on him, asking who he is and why I am with him," she said.

"This is the same for my male colleagues or friends. He acts possessive and does not want to see me with other men."

The couple has three children together and has been together for 15 years. 

After he lost his job, Ivy says he came to the house with a host of friends for a drinking party.

"During these uncertain times, I did not understand how he could bring strangers to our house, where we have our children, and when I confronted him, the verbal abuse started," she said.

He accuses her of sleeping around with other men and says she is the cause of all his family conflicts. 

In the morning when he wakes up, he says he does not remember what happened the previous night or what he said and blames it on the alcohol. 

"At this point, with the amount of psychological abuse I have gone through, I really need a counsellor but services like those are not accessible here because they are too expensive," she said. 

Ivy says the reason her husband constantly puts her down may be because he fears she will leave him, a decision she has begun considering. 

Aerial shot of Mathare slum in Nairobi, where a higher percentage of women are victims of gender-based violence on Wednesday
Aerial shot of Mathare slum in Nairobi, where a higher percentage of women are victims of gender-based violence on Wednesday
Image: DOUGLAS OKIDDY

VIOLENCE SPIKE

There has been a spike in the number of gender-based violence cases ever since the stay-at-home and curfew directives were issued in an effort to combat Covid-19. 

The latest data from Centre for Rights Education and Awareness reports  114 cases of violence between March 18 and May 6.  

According to the data, Nairobi and Kilifi have the leading number of sexual, physical and economic violence against women. Other counties are Isiolo, Nyeri, Meru, and Kitui.

The women often find refuge with Rachel Mwikali from the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders. 

"The women have found it is impossible to find help from the police because sometimes they laugh at them and even tell them by now they should be used to the violence," she said. 

Mwikali adds she cannot advise the women to leave their spouses right now because the government is yet to fulfil its promise and set up safe houses for survivors of violence. 

"Queer couples are also struggling with a rise in GBV cases, but because of the stigma associated with them, they have nowhere to turn and end up living with their abusers," she said. 

"Gender violence does not seem to be a priority to the police or to the government, and services such as counselling are inaccessible to most women in grassroots areas."

Edited by T Jalio