Tackling gender-based violence in Rwanda
It is estimated that 250,000 women were raped during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, but today the Rwandan people are reaching out to educate and prevent gender-based violence.
In Rwanda, a UN-supported Gender Desk at the National Police is providing legal and psychosocial support to survivors and raising awareness about violence against women, particularly among men. The Desk is also educating police officers about gender-based violence.
“As the police are responsible for investigating gender and domestic violence cases, they have to understand gender inequalities and gender-based violence,” said Violet Kaberanze, a consultant at the gender Desk, which also runs a hotline. “This helps them listen to victims, take violence against women as a security and human rights issue and to be compassionate to them.”
The initiative is a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and the UN since 2005, including UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNFPA and UNDP, and is currently supported through the UN Delivering as One Programme. It comes on the heels of landmark achievements in women’s rights in Rwanda, including the Gender-Based Violence Bill passed by the Parliament in 2009. The bill, which was supported by UN organizations, defines gender-based violence and calls for its prevention through educational campaigns and legal punishment for perpetrators.
One of the first cases reported to the Desk concerned a mother who discovered that her 14 year-old daughter had been repeatedly raped by the girl’s guardian. Not knowing where else to turn, the mother contacted a UN programme officer who in turn referred her to the gender Desk in the National Police HQs.
“Here, the violence-affected woman or girl has the chance to have her case be investigated – and perpetrators brought to justice,” Kaberanze added.
Police records on reported cases of violence from January to September 2008 show 428 cases of physical assault, 307 cases of rape of adults, 1,652 cases of rape of children under 18, and 75 cases of domestic homicide. More than 400 cases of rape and sexual abuse ended up in court the first half of 2008; of these, 68 percent of offenders were convicted and 32 percent acquitted. The Gender Desk helped to investigate these cases and ensure evidence was available for court proceedings.
Gender inequalities are so embedded in the culture that many men don’t perceive their behavior towards women as aggressive. For this reason, raising awareness is crucial among all the population, but particularly boys and men.
A pastor in northern Rwanda, Emmanuel considered himself the model husband, until he attended a gender-based violence awareness programme in his community. He then realized he had been violent with his wife to a degree that was considered illegal.
“When I learned that my behavior was not acceptable I changed,” Pastor Emmanuel said. “And I promised to share what I had learned with the rest of the men in my community and beyond.”