Hundreds of Rwandan women took part in the ‘One Billion Rising for Justice Walk last week.
One Billion Rising is a global campaign seeking to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
In Rwanda, it was organised by the University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences through its School of Nursing and Midwifery in Kigali.
In attendance were women of all walks of life ranging from teens to older ones.
As they marched, the women talked about the importance of enacting laws and making sure they are effective to protect women against violence.
They danced under the scorching sun through the street from the College of Medicine and Health Sciences campus to the main venue at Camp Kigali, drawing cheers, and applause from onlookers.
At the main venue, participants were treated to music, poems, drama, dance and testimonies from girls who have previously suffered sexual violence.
A 16-year-old girl, (name withheld), a victim of violence, recalled how growing up with her grandmother left her vulnerable to sexual abuse.
“My mother left me at a tender age and I never got a chance to know her during my childhood. One day on my way to school a man called Paul grabbed me, abused me sexually and threatened to kill me if I told anyone about it,” Marie said, adding that she stopped going to school for fear of meeting the rapist again.
Many people in the crowd shed tears and called for justice.
“For 14 years I did not know my mum. Later my grandmother passed on and I had no one to take care of me. I later moved in with a relative who took me to my mum. When I got there I thought my problems were solved but they were far from over,” she said.
The girl said her mother discontinued her from school to help in farm work to support her step siblings to study.
“I found life hard and decided to leave and go to a relative’s place where I also lived for a short time. I later moved around Kigali to look for work. I secured a job as a house maid and things seemed to be moving on well until one day, the owner of the home demanded to have sex with me. When I refused I was imprisoned on trumped up charges of theft for two months but I was later released and taken to (a rehabilitation centre in Kigali) with ten other children. Life is okay and I am back to school,” Marie said.
Another victim, now 14 years old, recounted her ordeal when she was still a little kid.
She said her mother divorced her father and got married to another man who abused her when she was just nine years old.
When her mother learnt of it, she secured for her another place of abode but that only worsened matters for her. The mother later abandoned her and, until today, her whereabouts are unknown.
Speaking at the event, Beatrice Mukasine, the president of the National Women’s Council pledged to follow up on the cases of those children and many others who she believes have not been reporting.
She said government is committed to end gender-based violence with different mechanisms to fight the vice in place.
Ending violence against women and girls is possible, she said.
“Elimination of gender violence is the foundation upon which the country will achieve its goal of empowering women,” she said.
Donatilla Ruremahe, the dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, said there is need for health workers to give extra care and attention to victims of gender-based violence.
“These people are traumatised but sometimes health workers do not give them much attention. They need to take time to listen to these victims and orient them on how they should seek help. Police should also be careful in seeking evidence and facilitate the victims until their cases are heard,” she said.
Ruremahe said most women victims of abuse suffer silently due to cultural barriers.
Phil Cotton, the Principal School of Nursing and Midwifery, said a third of women in the world are abused with men being the major perpetrators.
He called for concerted efforts to change the world perception of women.
“Today we are saying rise meaning that we should stand up against injustice, rape, and murder of women. This, however, requires women to open up and start telling their stories,” Cotton said.
“Midwives should give extra care to underage pregnant girls because often times they are traumatised. Everyone can be a victim of violence, that is why we need to rise up and put an end to it,” he added.
Globally, it is estimated that one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Gender, and family planning in 2012, up to 39 murder cases were recorded among spouses, 28 of which were committed by husbands, while last year, 178 women were physically assaulted by their husbands.
As part of efforts to protect children and women, Rwanda National Police established the Directorate of ‘Anti Gender-Based Violence and Child Abuse.’
The force also established Isange One Stop Centre, a facility that offers free-medical, psychological and legal services to GBV victims.
Other strategies include periodic awareness in communities via radios, and in schools.
The public can also report cases of child abuse and gender violence by calling the Rwanda National Police hotlines; 3512 and 116.
Senior Superintendent Rose Musoni, the Director for Anti GBV and Child Abuse in Rwanda National Police, warns people against violating the rights of children.
“Reporting cases of child abuse like defilement, abortion, child labour and corporal punishment should be everyone’s responsibility and a norm among Rwandans to bring to justice the offenders and protect children."