Violence against women is an old age vice largely perpetuated by patriarchal values which traditionally placed women as subordinates and inferior to men. Although in Rwanda the vice has significantly come down thanks to deliberate efforts of government and stakeholders, gender based violence still thrives. Why does gender violence persist despite these efforts? This is the question that activists should ponder as Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, tomorrow.
Honorine Uwababyeyi, a gender activist and Founder of ‘Hope and Peace Foundation’; an organisation that helps victims of gender based violence says that cases of violence are still prevalent and that more needs to be done to curb the problem.
She argues that men are pivotal in the fight against gender based violence and should be partners instead of being labeled as the perpetrators.
“We should sensitize the men because sensitizing women only will not help that much. A woman knowing her rights doesn’t help much when a man knows nothing. Problems will still arise,” Uwababyeyi explains.
Her views are echoed by other gender activists. Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor at the Gender Monitoring Office says that although the challenge persists, there is still hope when it comes to working towards continuously curtailing the cases of violence against women since more victims are now willing to speak out, which wasn’t the case in the past.
She says that her office mostly reaches out to the people at the grassroots level to sensitize them about the dangers of gender based violence and how to avoid it.
“The government has done a lot but cases are still there because of the various hindrances, like the issue of evidence. Sometimes cases are lost because there is no evidence to back up the case and in the process, bringing perpetrators to justice becomes almost impossible,’ she says.
According to statistics from the United Nations, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives. However, less than 40 percent of women who experienced violence sought help of any sort.
What is the situation in Rwanda?
Statistics from the National Police show that cases of gender based violence are still a big challenge. Although some of the cases are usually not reported to police, cases that were officially reported at police have been declining over the ears.
For instance, in 2012; 244 rape cases were reported, 281 were reported in 2013 and 284 in 2014. Physical abuse cases were 587 in 2012, 411 in 2013 and 541 in 2014.
Women who were battered by husbands were 378 in 2012, 242 in 2013 and 271 in 2014 while women murdered by husbands were 28 in 2012, 39 in 2013 and 37 in 2014.
The Police Spokesperson; Theo Badege says that although the figures indicate that the cases are still prevalent, there has been a decline over the years thanks to joint efforts by the different partners.
“The decline can be attributed to the improvement of the services provided by the Isange One Stop Centres which have a double mission of primarily taking care of victims and supporting investigations and providing expertise in this particular field,” he said.
What measures should be taken?
Rwabuhihi urges individuals, communities and other partners to be a part of the fight because she believes that punishments cannot be the sole preventive measure, but rather working as a team and believing that its everyone’s responsibility to fight this.
Rwabuhihi also points out the issue of poverty where men are still the breadwinners in their families.
“The issue of liability is another case, for instance if a woman is beaten and an arm is broken, the husband is then arrested and the children are left with no one to provide for them,” she adds.
She also mentions about scenarios where women who are abused later come back to the police to plead for release of their husbands making the abuse a recurring issue.
“More sensitization is needed but every individual should know that it’s their responsibility to be a part of this fight,” she said.
Where do women stand on this?
22-year-old Julienne Uwimana says that women; mostly those from rural areas suffer a lot when it comes to gender based violence.
“Women from rural areas barely know their rights and men use this opportunity to oppress them. They end up suffering in silence with no one to turn to and it’s really disturbing,” she says.
Uwimana advises the government to use its many resources to sensitize both women and men about the advantages of having a healthy, violence and dispute free family.
Vestine Uwamahoro a Procurement Officer is of the view that women should take advantage of the law and report such cases.
“Some women tend to accept such situations just because they are women but this isn’t right. They should know that they have rights and deserve to live in peace,” Uwamahoro says.
For Maureen Katushabe, a housewife, violence against women will only stop if people put cultural expectations behind them and start speaking about it.
“A lot of women suffer in silence because they fear to put their marital problems in the open. This needs to stop because it only serves to escalate the problem,” she says.
From November 25 to December 10, as part of efforts to continue fighting for women rights, the Kigali International Conference Declaration; a regional convention of women in security organs will convene in Kigali in line with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
Badege says that the aim of this event is to help women in security organs to reflect on how they can position themselves to prevent and respond to emerging international crimes and threats in relation to violence against women and girls.
“It’s going to be a framework of experience and good practices focusing on the role of women in security organs in fighting violence. We know that the role of women in this fight is paramount,” he notes.
Read in the TNT