Monday, November 26, 2012

Attitude change crucial in reducing gender violence

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 25 November 2012

We recently concluded analysis on data we collected in Eldoret on the psychological factors associated with intimate partner violence experienced by women living in and around the town. Last week I had the opportunity to present the findings of this study at a conference in Lagos, Nigeria.

Compared to previous reports such as the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), we uncovered astonishingly high rates of intimate partner violence in our study. Over four out of five women who participated in our study reported having experienced at least one instance of emotional, sexual or physical violence in the 12 months preceding the study. They reported being slapped, insulted, threatened, beaten to within an inch of their lives and being forced into sexual acts that often resulted in serious injuries leading to hospitalisation.

The most interesting aspect of this study, however, was the finding that two major psychological factors in the women increased their risk of being battered by their partners.

Firstly, holding traditional gender role attitudes significantly increased the risk of being battered. No matter how educated or otherwise empowered a woman happened to be, the fact that she agreed to take a subordinate role in the family hierarchy, instead of offering some protection from violence, actually increased the risk.

Previous work has suggested that women with more egalitarian attitudes had a high risk of being battered, but this was not immediately evident in our study. Instead, we found that differences in gender role expectations were more significant in predicting intimate partner violence than a woman’s egalitarian gender role attitudes. In other words, when a woman had expectations of an equal relationship, and her partner had more traditional patriarchal attitudes, the risk of violence escalated significantly.

Secondly, women who used more passive coping styles were at increased risk of violence from their partners. Surprisingly, even those who used the available social support structures such as extended family, religious organisations and women’s groups were not protected from violence.

In our study, it seemed that having been abused or traumatised as a child also increased the risk of being battered, a finding that is consistent with what others have reported in the past. Further, having a partner who uses alcohol or other drugs significantly increased the likelihood of abuse.

Interestingly, the age or level of education in both partners seemed not to affect the difference in gender role expectations, confirming an important principle in psychology that one’s upbringing plays a huge role in determining their personality and behaviour as an adult. In other words, the child is indeed father to the man.

The key message from this small study we conducted is that despite efforts by government and NGOs geared towards reducing intimate partner violence, there seems to be a missing link in the area of assertiveness and gender role expectations. Empowering women without dealing with their role expectations and those of their partners is actually likely to increase the risk of violence, rather than lowering it.

Perhaps a new approach is called for. We may need to start focussing on changing attitudes towards what constitutes violence in a relationship, since the traditional role expectations seem to condone it in at least some circumstances. A focus on the male partners may in fact have more impact. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Securing our children’s future against tribalism

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 18 November 2012

Whenever one wants to quit a destructive habit, they are advised to find an alternative wholesome habit to replace it. Spending time on more useful things ensures that little time is left to spend on the destructive habit, and in time, the habit is eventually lost.

In my view, we could apply this principle in dealing with one of our most destructive national vices. Most Kenyans appear to agree that making political choices based on a politician’s ethnicity is a stupid habit that we need to lose if we are to make any headway in achieving any of our national goals.

Since Independence, we have tried several strategies to deal with tribalism – the philosophy that tribal affinity is the primary consideration whenever a political or socio-economic decision is being made. We have tried the path of nationalism and patriotism. We have been exhorted to put our country first whenever we are making decisions.

We have been reminded over and over again about there being unity in strength, and that our ethnic diversity should be our source of strength. We have even walked down the Najivunia kuwa Mkenya (Proud to be Kenyan) route with former government spokesman Alfred Mutua.

Nothing seems to work. Despite all the efforts to remind us that we must think of ourselves as Kenyan first, we have had nepotism and tribalism reigning supreme at the pinnacle of power in our country. We have consistently voted for presidential candidates from our own tribes or those who have been endorsed by our favourite tribal chieftains.

We have even had several mini-civil wars pitting us against our fellow citizens from another tribe. It has gotten so bad that political parties are now known as “vehicles” for tribes and their leaders to compete for positions against other tribes and their leaders. Indeed, the current frenzy of political alliance-making is an ill-disguised prelude to continued loot-sharing between tribal chieftains.

Luckily, there is a way we can finally lay this ogre to rest if we really want to change our way of doing things. Although it is absolutely true that we need to start with the youngest children for lasting change to be realised, this idea always raises the question – who will bell the cat? 

Strategy two

An adult with a rotten mind cannot teach purity to a child. It follows, therefore, that we have to rely on the second-best strategy.

Let us allow the adults to make their decisions whichever way they want. Let them elect their political leaders based on their tribal inclinations if they want to. Let them buy all their food and clothes from people who speak like them, look like them and dress like them. These are their inalienable rights.

But let us also do something else to protect our children from this filthy ideology.

Let us not publicly ask our compatriots how they make their important decisions. Let us not give them an opportunity to spout ignorant ethnocentric tripe, and thus justify their primitive instinctual decision-making processes. Perhaps then our children will grow up believing that we are cleverer than we really are, and are always rational whenever we are called upon to make decisions.

By not discussing the evils of tribalism, we may finally allow this ogre to slink back into the dark, dank cave from which it periodically emerges to torment us. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Involvement of religious groups in education

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 11 November 2012

The Kenyan Constitution, like any other negotiated document, is decidedly vague in some parts, and apparently contradictory in others. Different interest groups were involved in several stages of its writing, and their fingerprints are all over the document.

Despite the largely liberal tone of the original drafts centred on individual liberties, the final document became an ideological hodgepodge meant to satisfy the loudest interest groups. However, for a document written largely by Harambee, it is remarkable that the original spirit of the citizen managed to shine through despite the best efforts of those that would stifle freedoms and keep the citizen encumbered by opinions masquerading as fact.

In order not to disturb the delicate balance of beliefs and traditions in our country, the final draft was conciliatory to the various cultures, and even deferred to religious organisations, promising respect for all religions and cultures, and freedom of worship for the individual. However, vestiges of the original intent to fashion and maintain a truly secular society remain, as encapsulated in Article 8 of our Constitution: “There shall be no State religion”.

At only six words, this is perhaps the shortest complete article in our Constitution. Its brevity probably encapsulates the uncertainty in the minds of the drafters of the document, as to what the actual will of Kenyans was on this matter. A plain reading would suggest that the State shall not promote any one religion and, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that religion is outlawed in the corridors of state.

Were the government to take the path of equality of religions, promoting all religions equally, there would be no space enough to hold all the religious groups that would want to be involved in State activities.
The Kavonokya sect that prefers its children to die of preventable illnesses in the name of God would occupy pride of place at the same level as the Catholic Church and Islam.

The Naivasha doomsday sect whose members buried themselves underground in anticipation of a nuclear catastrophe would be represented wherever the Anglican Church is found in a State function or institution. To avoid this sense of entitlement from every sect and denomination, and in order to remain faithful to Article 8, the only rational thing for government to do would be to avoid entanglement with any religious organisation.

This brings us to the hue and cry about provisions in the Education Bill allowing the government to control all instruction in schools, whether public or private.

Religious organisations have argued that they have a right to provide religious instruction in their own institutions without government oversight. The wisdom of this argument is up for debate, given the role of any responsible government in protecting children from potentially unwholesome teaching that may interfere with their normal development.

However, the more interesting demand from the religious lobby is that they would like to have representation on State education boards and institutions. One suspects that this would run afoul of Article 8, as it may constitute promotion of religion, creating de facto “State religions”.

It will, therefore, be useful for both the religious lobbies and the government to examine more carefully the meaning of this brief constitutional injunction before discussing the role of religious organisations in the education of Kenyan children and youth. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Are we going to claim we never saw this coming?

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 04 November 2012

It has been said over and over again, but it bears repeating. Our beloved country Kenya is not out of the tribal woods yet. No matter how much we congratulate ourselves and repeat the mantra that “Kenyans have become cleverer”, the truth is that we are constantly one step away from apocalyptic disaster.

After the conflagration that followed our last General Election, many of us thought to ourselves that that was as bad as it could ever get. We watched on television as hundreds of thousands were displaced, as hundreds of our fellow-citizens were butchered for being born in the wrong tribe, and a few of us shed a tear in despair. We wrung our hands and begged the principals to reach an agreement and prevent an all-out civil war. We reached out to the international community and asked them to mediate an agreement.

Finally, we sighed with relief when on the steps of Harambee House in late February 2008, former United Nations Secretary-General sombrely intoned, “We have a deal”. We took to the streets in joy, embracing total strangers, swearing that this would be a new beginning in the history of our country, and telling anyone who cared to listen that we had triumphed over adversity.

Sadly, reality sank in soon enough. The same ethnic considerations re-emerged in making state appointments, and cronyism continued to rule the roost as epitomised by the now immortal incantation by our former deputy Chief Justice, “You should know people”. 

Going nowhere

Those that had been left out of the loop quickly realised that they were going nowhere, and nothing had changed. Poor Kenyans living in squalor in our slums and rural hamlets soon realised that the deaths, rapes and displacements were all in vain, and that the country was soon settling into its “anything goes” routine.

Despair set in once again. Unemployment, extreme poverty and a feeling of disenfranchisement pervades the country in the setting of soaring economic growth numbers and a trillion shilling budget. Our leaders have lost touch with the common mwananchi. They only fight to secure their own fortunes and those of their immediate family and hangers-on. The rest of the citizenry survive on crumbs from their tables. And this is fertile ground for dissent, disengagement, and ultimately, disorder.

We are already seeing signs of disorder. From Tana River to Mombasa, from Samburu to Kisumu, Nairobi all the way to Garissa and Mandera, Kenyans are rising up against fellow citizens. Grenade attacks, killings of policemen and other violent crimes on a large scale no longer merit newspaper headlines.

Let us not repeat the fallacy next year that we never saw this coming. Let no one say that they were never warned. From Justice Kriegler’s warning to the conversations at middle class dinner tables tonight, the warning signs are all around us. From unthinkingly mouthed ethnic epithets to blatant favouritism in allocation of state resources, we are laying ground for the final assault on the idea of Kenya.

Disenfranchised youth have tried the ballot several times and failed to win emancipation. When they tried violence to claim their freedom last time, they were stopped in their tracks by a political settlement.

One shudders to imagine what it will take to stop them once they get going after the next national crisis. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli