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
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.
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.
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.
Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a
senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine firstname.lastname@example.org;