Wife Battering ‘Normal’ Among the Luhya Community

For years cases of domestic /spousal violence have remained high among the Luhya. Hardly a day passes without a case of a woman being beaten from one homestead to the other. It is a norm such that incidents are often ignored; ‘ni va khasotso’ meaning the usual fighters.
Hailing from this community, I can attribute this to the existing socio-cultural myths; that a woman must occasionally be scolded to instill some discipline in her, to make her submissive and as a gesture of love. The women from this community have been cultured to believe that being battered is a prerequisite to a successful steady marriage. As a matter of fact, the women while toiling on the farm, fetching water from the river or while collecting firewood would tease each other that if they are not beaten by their husbands then they are not loved. They even ‘brag’ about the degree of injuries inflicted on them!
The women often ‘run’ back to their parents after being battered but amazingly they are persuaded to go back and take care of their children and husband shortly after nursing the injuries. They are given chicken, sweet potatoes, bananas, flour accompanied by great advice; “stay strong, marriage is tough, you don’t have to be running back to us every time your husband slaps you. Grow up! It is normal; we too endured all that.” Well, this is normally advice from a mother or grandmother.
The woman goes back and prepares an orgasmic meal (chicken and ugali) for the husband and takes over from where she had left. The husband threatens to marry another mature woman if she continues to sulk and run off all the time. But makes sweet love to her and with no time her belly swells up again.
Luhya men are very chauvinistic. They command nothing but respect from their women. A wife is just like one of his children. They are the sole decision makers. They do not easily take advice from their women, learned or not! On the flip side, they are very hard working. They work from dawn to dusk to fend for their families. They are care takers, nothing or no one can harm their family. And don’t get me wrong, they are very loving, especially the Bukusu. (The Wafulas) rarely scold their wives, they have a superficial way of showing love to their wives; topic for another day.
Luhya women are equally hardworking but can also be ‘thick headed’ especially the ones from Bunyore land. A Nyore woman cannot be easily taken down in a flight, in fact they are feared and any man marrying them knows what challenge he has brought upon himself. On the contrary, they are known to be the ones ‘disciplining’ their husbands.
My mother always threatened me that my husband will break my ribs for being slow. And that my husband will always send me back home for being lazy. I kept wondering if that was the kind of future awaiting me. I knew that there must be away out. I now tell her, NO! It doesn’t have to be that way!
Many cases of domestic violence (severe cases) are reported to the area chiefs who solve them (amicably) together with community elders. Reconciliation is always the way forward. Luhyas believe that Police station, cells and prison is for murderers and thieves, not petty chicken/maize thieves, serious robbers.
Anti-GBV campaigners need to understand these socio-cultural barriers entangled within this community while preparing their campaign programmes.

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