It is believed that violence perpetrated by women against men is widely underreported because there is stigma associated with being a man who is abused by a woman—a concept that somehow makes one less of a man. Take Isaac Gashakamba, for example, who endured three years of emotional and physiological torture due to wrangles at home. He narrates that it all started with normal arguments due to financial distress, as the wife was the sole provider at home. Because they didn’t have a major source of income, the wife decided to take on any job she could find, including working in bars, something Gashakamba wasn’t comfortable with. Every time he would question her about the issue, she would become violent to a point of hitting him. And this became a regular thing. When the violence became unbearable, he decided to share with others who mocked him for failing to handle his issues well. Because of this, he decided to sit back and watch his mental health deteriorate with time. Philipe Musabyimana, 34, another victim of GBV, says the torture and physical violence from his wife started when he found out she was selling their belongings in his absence. This started after the birth of their second child. “My wife would push and beat me when I would ask her about what she was doing. Because of the children, all I could do was tolerate it. Mind you, it’s not that I couldn’t fight back, but I just didn’t want my children to watch me beat their mother,” he says. Jean-Nepo Habimana, 40, says he endured emotional pain from his wife over divorce, as the wife didn’t want to file for it, something that eventually resulted in physical abuse. He recalls one day when his wife became violent and ripped off his shirt. When he finally pushed her away in self-defence, she fell down and hurt herself. No one ever believed him and before he knew it, people were against him for battering his wife. If it wasn’t for his children sharing what they had witnessed earlier, he says, he would have ended up in jail for violence against his wife. For years, he never fought back or retaliated when the wife assaulted him, instead, he would walk away. “If I had chosen to fight back, who do you think would be demonised? I would, for the same reason I was ridiculed in the first place. If I had hit her back, I would almost certainly have been facing charges, even though she was the aggressor,” he says. Getting help Despite being the victims of GBV for a long time, all these men are now coping well with their families, thanks to Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC) that came to their aid. The organisation aims at promoting gender equality through the reconstruction of a non-violent identity of men, adoption of healthy masculine behaviours, and men’s empowerment to be positive and supportive partners. After being counselled and mentored, the victims were helped to reconcile with their spouses, whom they are now living more peacefully with. Fidel Rutayisire, Executive Director of RWAMREC, says much has been done to help these victims, including psychological support. They also refer them to other legal service providers and take them through the healing process and family reconciliation when possible. “Growing up, I often heard this phrase thrown around even at the most minuscule things, ‘when will you be or act a man’,” says Kevin Ngabo, a young educator and activist. Ngabo believes that this statement is enough to make male victims avoid reporting what they are going through, and that the sad part is that even in this era, people still believe in such. He says there is a tendency of shaming boys from an early age into emulating the perceived standard of male norms that include being strong, dominating, emotionless, fearless, and so on. “What this has done is further exclude and marginalise men, especially within the Queer community who appear effeminate, opening them up to psychological and emotional gender-based violence,” he says. Venuste Kagabo, a partner at Fidelis Law Chambers, and member of Rwanda Bar Association, says as a lawyer, they rarely handle issues of GBV against men, yet men too suffer not only domestic violence but other forms of violence as well. Property sharing and ownership, he says, is another common issue both genders experience, yet women are the ones who appear to be vulnerable. For instance, when getting married, women would prefer the management of their property in common while men always prefer to separate managing the property. After marriage, when there was a problem, women would use this issue to silence men and this is where most of the violence starts. “It then becomes hard for a man to report such issues as they want to save their marriage, even for the sake of their children,” he says. Although this happens to women as well, Kagabo says, it becomes more challenging for men as it is hard to defend themselves in court. Status of GBV against men, challenges According to Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey report published by the National Institute of Statistics (2019/20); 37 per cent of women and girls who are aged between 15 and 49 had experienced physical or sexual, or psychological violence. The corresponding proportions among men are 30 per cent. Although at the moment there are no up-to-date statistics on GBV against boys and men, at RWAMREC, they receive at least five cases of GBV against men per week. Silas Ngayaboshya, the director general, Gender Promotion & Women Empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF), says the way masculinity is defined is associated with not reporting or not sharing weakness. He says there is under-reporting as far as GBV against men is concerned but it’s evident that under-reporting is associated with the definition of masculinity in most African cultures, thus making cases of GBV against men not reported as they should. Also, another setback, he says, is that men or boys and society in general, need to know that it’s okay for them to be weak, to be vulnerable, and report any violence against them because the law is clear. Besides, those receiving victims of GBV still believe that a man coming to report violence against them is not a manly thing, which at times hinders them from providing full support to the victims. “Negative masculinity can itself be a source of violence against men and boys, although justice is never justified in our laws, you would see that it might be a source of violence itself against men and boys,” he adds. The gaps, measures in place Louise Uwizeyimana, an activist and lawyer, says people should understand that rights belong to all, regardless of sex, and that abuse is abuse regardless of who was victimised. She says concerned bodies should provide a conducive environment for men to file their cases freely without discrimination. Uwizeyimana, who is also a journalist, believes that media coverage and societal pressure are way less because the victim is a male. Ange Mugisha, founder of Shirimpumu Turikumwe, an organisation that strives to help both men and women who are victims of GBV, says there is a need to increase awareness campaigns on the prevention of violence and break the culture of silence among men victims. Ngayaboshya says the laws and policies on GBV are clear which indicates that both males and females are equal in the eyes of the law. For instance, Article 2 of the law on prevention and punishment of gender-based violence (GBV) defines gender-based violence as “any act that results in a bodily, psychological, sexual and economic harm to somebody just because they are female or male.” The government enforces, through different capacities, strengthening by conducting and partnering with different stakeholders to ensure that service providers are aware that GBV can happen to both genders. “As the ministry, we encourage and mobilise all people to report any kind of GBV regardless of the gender, just to ensure all the victims get their rights and are supported where possible,” he says.