Rwanda has been a trailblazer in combating gender-based violence (GBV), with activists and civil society organisations leading the charge. As the nation joins the global commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against GBV, it is essential to look at the progress made by the local anti-GBV movement, and identify the obstacles hindering the fight as well as the necessary steps for the future. ALSO READ: Ending gender based violence is achievable According to Patience Iribagiza, the Founder of Afro Ark, a local organisation that works on fighting GBV, among other priorities, the anti-GBV movement has helped Rwanda establish community-oriented structures, programmes, and interventions targeting awareness-raising, contesting negative gender norms and promoting women empowerment. Meanwhile, women remain the primary victims of GBV. According to Rwanda’s Demographic and Health Survey report (2019/20), 37 per cent of women and girls who are aged 15-49, had experienced physical or sexual, or psychological violence. The corresponding proportion among men is 30 per cent. ALSO READ: Rwanda's eight landmark achievements in gender equality Iribagiza said the “One Stop Centres” established in every district are commendable in the anti-GBV fight. “These centres have been instrumental in giving the survivors early and organised treatment as well as linking GBV survivors to legal service structures including the police and courts of law for the survivors to attain justice,” she said. ALSO READ: Effects of GBV to watch out for Afro Ark fights gender-based violence holistically by providing mobile clinics for survivors, training women peer champions, promoting community awareness through sensitisation programmes, and advocating for gender policy and legal reforms at both local and national levels. Iribagiza said that in their work, the organisation and other local anti-GBV activists still face challenges related to negative attitudes and traditional culture from both men and women who still believe in women inferiority and submission towards their male counterparts, thereby promoting GBV. Other challenges are related to funding and capacity limitations. Iribagiza said they impact the scale and effectiveness of their programmes, adding that limited infrastructures are also obstacles when they want to reach rural populations. ALSO READ: Unlawful marriages linked to GBV—officials “To overcome them, we are working to strengthen partnerships with local and international organisations as well as existing local and national structures. We also seek to increase community engagement and participation, and advocate for increased investment in GBV prevention and response efforts as well as gender response budget tracking,” she said. Fidele Rutayisire, the Executive Director of Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), said that the active engagement of men and boys in anti-GBV activism has proven to be instrumental in achieving positive outcomes over the past years, adding that leveraging that could yield even better results. “Men are still the gatekeepers of current gender orders and are potential resistors of change. If we do not effectively reach men and boys, many of our efforts can be ignored,” he said. “As they are part of the problem, they can be part of the solution. There is a need to continue engaging men and boys in all programme interventions for the gender transformation of our society. This requires mainstream men to engage approaches in all socio-economic sectors.” ALSO READ: How positive masculinity can shape a better society According to Rutayisire, Rwanda has established policies and strategies such as the revised national gender policy, and the National Men Engage strategy to address the issue of gender inequality leading to GBV, an area he said RWAMREC contributes to. Rutayisire emphasised that working with youth (boys and girls) is crucial given that adolescence is a time when attitudes and values about ‘correct’ behaviours are often learned and internalised. “If we work with them at an early age, there is no doubt that the future of Rwanda will be free from GBV,” he said. Brendah Kalungi, the Human Rights and Litigation Officer at Health Development Initiative (HDI) Rwanda, acknowledged anti-GBV activism achievements, particularly through the Generation B programme, involving youth in schools as champions to train others on GBV. “While there is limited male involvement, there has been progress in engaging men through discussions, debates, and meetings with civil societies,” she added. HDI has collaborated with Isange One Stop Centre to ensure free medication for GBV victims. Kalungi said the organisation also educates women and girls on resources and has trained over 2,000 domestic workers. Discussing the challenges they still face, Karungi highlighted difficulties in promoting contraceptive use due to cultural barriers, with some people not understanding or accepting safe abortion, especially in Catholic-based hospitals. “Lack of accommodation for GBV victims during the healing process, particularly for those violated by family members, is also a big challenge,” she added. Kalungi emphasised the need for increased awareness about GBV, particularly in different parts of the country, given that some married women still think being beaten is acceptable. “We should also inform women about the available medical support for rape victims,” she continued, adding that more government-led projects to educate the public are a necessity. Kalungi further called for training duty bearers, including those who handle GBV cases, such as lawyers and judges, to understand better and address such incidents. “There are concerns about the lack of justice for domestic workers when they face GBV because local leaders do not understand them. Therefore, there is a need for training for local leaders to whom victims often turn,” she said, adding that accommodations and safe spaces for GBV victims during the healing process should also be put in place.