NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – Kenya's capital, Nairobi, faces a "profound crisis" with "grotesque" levels of violence against women spiralling out of control as poverty increases, according to a new report by the Small Arms Survey (SAS).
Although domestic violence – such as a man slapping his wife 'to discipline' her – is widely accepted in Kenya, the report documented many cases of extreme violence against women, including gang rape by up to 20 men, machete and acid attacks, decapitation and mutilation.
Only a tiny percentage of victims seek justice for these attacks, which are mostly carried out by current or former husbands and boyfriends, according to the Geneva-based independent research group.
"There is this huge underclass in Nairobi of totally disenfranchised, chronically poor, aggressive males, who probably grew up in households where they saw all the female members being beaten, who actually don't know any better and who continue that pattern of behaviour," the report's author Claire McEvoy told TrustLaw.
"It's a profound crisis. People cannot cope with their lives."
The report, based on research carried out over a year, details shocking examples of brutality in the city's slums, such as a woman being raped with a beer bottle and beaten up by her husband, who then set her clothes on fire. Nearby police officers did not intervene.
In another case, a naked, decapitated female body was found dumped by the roadside with her breasts, tongue, eyes and genitals missing. Her ex-husband was later arrested with her body parts, which he said he planned to sell.
The report – ‘Battering, Rape, and Lethal Violence: A Baseline of Information on Physical Threats against Women in Nairobi’ – blamed the violence on the poverty and stress of living in Nairobi’s overcrowded slums, along with rigid gender stereotypes where men are expected to provide for their families, and drunkenness.
"Poverty – and with it cramped living space – is the number one factor in exacerbating levels of IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) in Nairobi," the report said.
"As poverty grows in Nairobi, violence against women is also likely to rise."
Over a million Kenyans live in Nairobi's fetid slums. It is common to find six or seven people sharing a one-room shack, where there is no sanitation, nobody working or going to school and where everyone shares just one meal a day.
Research cited by SAS shows that 80 percent of Nairobians are poorer than they were 10 years ago due to rising food prices and stagnant wages.
"People who are really struggling to cope with life, who are severely undereducated, who have no money and who will never have any money ... are taking out their frustrations through severely aggressive behaviour," McEvoy said.
Many violent arguments occur at night, when a man returns home, sometimes drunk, looking for something to eat.
"She should prepare (food) for her husband. You assume she could have borrowed even if there's no money in the house," one man told the researcher.
RAPE OF CHILDREN
The number of rapes reported to Nairobi's three biggest centres offering post-rape medical care is rising, with around 10 women and girls seeking treatment each day in 2011.
Disturbingly, the majority of rape victims attending these medical centres are children.
Last year, girls and boys aged 11 and younger accounted for one third of patients at the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) in Nairobi Women's Hospital, the leading organisation in terms of gathering data on reported sexual violence. The youngest child ever treated for rape at the centre was a one-month-old girl.
"A man can be drunk and lose control," one interviewee said in the report. "He doesn’t care if it’s a child. He needs to satisfy himself."
A government report, cited by SAS, said that one of the reasons incest is increasing is because parents are forced to share sleeping room with children and other relatives.
Research shows that children who grow up experiencing or witnessing violence regard it as normal and continue the cycle.
The report said violence against poor women and girls is "a non-issue for the media, the police, the political class, and, by extension, the Kenyan state".
Women's corpses are often found dumped by roadsides or in ditches, yet their murders are not investigated unless the deceased's family pushes the police to do so, McEvoy said.
"I think it would help matters greatly if somebody – an NGO (non-governmental organisation) or an interested actor – were to take a case on this against the Kenyan state to force the issue on to the national agenda," she said.
"Currently, frankly, it is being ignored."