IT started like any other normal day for Emily Tuyishime but little did she know it would turn into a black Saturday in her life.
On that fateful Saturday afternoon, her four-year-old son was involved in an accident that left him in a coma after sustaining grave injuries on the head.
Tuyishime tried to seek compensation from the bus company, but in vain.
She turned to the courts, and amidst the pain of nursing her child, she had to deal with running after lawyers and expenses she could barely handle.
“This journey I have been on with my child is a long and painful one. It has distressed me and I feel like I have let down my child,” she says.
It’s almost nine years since the unfortunate incident happened, and Tuyishime is almost giving up. She has run out of resources and is left with little or no hope for justice.
Like Tuyishime, the road to seeking justice for many women is long and bumpy. Despite, the policies in place, women still face challenges when it comes to accessing justice compared to their male counterparts.
Cressence Mukantabana, the founder of Poor Women Development Network, says that financial constraints are one of the biggest factors that deter women’s efforts in accessing justice.
“The increase in court fees is another issue, before it was around Rwf5,000 but now it’s Rwf25, 000. It’s hard for some women to get that amount and that is why some decide to leave cases unreported,” she says.
Mukantabana also points out that some women who are not in Ubudehe 1 and 2 poverty level categories cannot access the services of a free lawyer and that this can be limiting in a way for those who cannot afford attorney fee.
Fear on the other hand is an issue also, Mukantabana says. Women tend to treat domestic violence as a private matter and would rarely come out in public to seek justice.
“Some don’t know their rights or what the law says, others fear approaching their leaders to seek advice,” she says.
Mukantabana cites the example of a couple in Kimisagara who were not legally married but were staying as husband and wife. At the time of separation, the man wanted to take the all the property yet it belonged to the woman.
“When the woman approached the local leaders, they told her she had no case but when she came to me, I advised her to proceed to court. So this is where the concern is, some women don’t understand the law and barely know their rights,” she says.
Bosco Murangira, the director of Women Economic Empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family promotion, says that there are still challenges related to gender stereotypes and people’s mindset that are historical.
He adds that the other challenge is illiteracy (in some cases) which limits them from fully understanding their legal rights.
Murangira on the other hand appreciates the fact that all laws which were gender blind or those that favoured one side were revised.
Women and girls have equal access to inheritance, education, among other areas.
“Most of them were the laws in place before 1994. Major reforms were made and we thank those that championed the good initiatives whereby today a girl or a woman is entitled to the same benefits and privileges as a boy or a man,” Murangira says.
What women say
Jackline Tumukunde, the director of Jallyn Travels, says that access to justice is a right for everyone, but women encounter hurdles regarding access to this right due to fear.
“They fear reporting these cases to authorities, we need more specialised organs to help women report their cases; I think women would easily have access to justice. For example, Isange One Stop Centre has been so helpful,” Tumukunde says.
She also believes that there is need for more sensitisation of women to get over the fear, and build their confidence so that they can be free.
“Also, increasing the number of female prosecutors and judges to deal with women’s cases to create confidentiality can be helpful; the issue of handling matters of women publicly affects women’s justice.
“Education is also key; when the number of educated women increases, it helps to improve their welfare and this includes making access to justice easy. Uneducated women don’t even know how to bring their matters forward,” she adds.
Maureen Katushabe says that it all comes down to the attitude women have towards this aspect.
“Most people are afraid of the long process involved in court so they either leave the case or try to work out things amicably.”
Women also fear to be judged by society so they end up being victims, rather than fight for the justice they deserve, Katushabe adds.
What are stakeholders doing to address this?
Theo Badege, the Police spokesperson, emphasises that both men and women have equal access to justice and police in particular.
“Sometime back we had some issues when dealing with gender-based violence or sexual related crimes, but we had to teach and sensitise the public. Also, the number of women in the directorate dealing with such issues was increased,” he says.
In cases of fear, there is an available hotline that runs 24 hours, seven days a week, anyone who finds it hard to access the Police can call the hotline and an arrangement can be made to see that the person is attended to, Badege points out.
Murangira says that there is emphasis on advocacy and outreach campaigns in order for existing laws and rights to be well known to the beneficiaries.
The Ministry of Gender and Family promotion in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, and other partners, are embarking on making the existing laws friendlier by translating them into Kinyarwanda, then disseminating them to the beneficiaries through the National Women Council structures, the Evening Parents Forum (Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi) and other local existing structures.
The other step being taken, Murangira says, is providing legal aid to the needy, like vulnerable women, among others.
“We shall continue to do everything possible to ensure women’s rights and their socio-economic development. We believe that if women and girls are given justice and full rights, they will excel in everything they do, be it leadership, entrepreneurship and the labour market,” Murangira says.
A 2017 survey shows that at least 87 per cent of Rwandans find legal and judicial services provided satisfactory, while trust for mediators remains relatively low.
The research, commissioned by Rwanda Legal Aid Forum, sought to gauge citizens’ perception of justice and legal services in the country.
The study titled, “Citizen Feedback on justice and legal services in Rwanda through ICT platforms,” sampled more than 5,500 respondents, 62 per cent of them women.
Its main objective was to assess the current framework of interactions between judicial institutions and citizens and examined most recurrent cases.
They involved land disputes, which constituted highest rate of complaints (19 per cent), followed by property disputes (12 per cent), paternity determination (8 per cent), succession (8 per cent) and divorce (7 per cent).
The survey also found that over 90 per cent of citizens were satisfied with the legal services provided by Access to Justice Bureaus (MAJ) and other non-state legal aid providers.
However, delays in service delivery and extreme cost attached to the service remain a great impediment to justice, it was not established.