The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) is one of the major organizers of a two-day international conference on Gender Based Violence (GBV), which gets underway today in Kigali. The New Times’ Bosco R. Asiimwe spoke to RDF’s Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga, about the Force’s involvement with anti-GBV programmes. Excerpts:
Q: In which context does Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) combat gender related violence?
A: RDF considers violence against women one of the threats that can have severe consequences to society. This philosophy in RDF is as old as the institution and it originates from RDF’s holistic approach to security threat assessment and to the RDF tradition as a liberation force. RDF was founded on the principles of freedom, rights and consideration for others, and protection of women from violence has been all along part of the RDF ethos.
Qn: How long has the Force been involved in fighting gender based violence?
A: Like I said before, the commitment to fight gender based violence in RDF is as old as the Force itself. In 2007, RDF established the Gender Desk in order to better structure and step up its gender based activities. With partners and other stakeholders RDF has taken up advocacy and focused more attention on training, mobilization and sensitization, guidance, counseling and on Socio-economic empowerment of women.
Q: What are major strategies do you use to fight gender based violence?
A: The RDF Gender Desk devised strategies and methods including training of RDF personnel and civilian Gender Focal Points (GFP), dissemination of information through gender desk brochures, the Ministry of Defence website, and through music, dance and drama by the Army Jazz Band. So far, about 11,000 people have been trained in such a short period of its existence. In addition, 3647anti- GBV clubs have been formed up to the Cell level and a hotline number 3945 has been established to help in reporting and responding to SGBV.
Q: Any significant achievements yet?
A: There are several major achievements already. First, the anti-GBV clubs established are now effectively acting as platforms through which information related to SGBV is being disseminated. In addition, they are being used to generate production and to improve the socio-economic status of families.
Second, RDF Gender Desk activities are not confined within the national boundaries of Rwanda; they have been extended beyond. RDF Peacekeepers have trained people in Darfur (Sudan) on the use of energy saving cook stoves (Rondereza). This reduces the amount of firewood required to cook, and therefore, reduces women vulnerability as women cut down on the number of trips they make to areas of hostility. Today, women in Darfur go out only twice a week to look for firewood instead of the original four days a week. Furthermore, RDF soldiers escort Sudanese women to farm fields, water collection points and markets.
Last but certainly not least, from 28-29 March 2008, RDF in partnership with other organs organized an international conference in Kigali on gender mainstreaming. This conference underscored the need to increase the number and capacities of women in Peacekeeping Missions. Since then the number of women in peace mission have increased considerably.