The rate at which cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV) are being reported in the media is alarming to say the least. Each week, there are a minimum of horrific stories. These range from women being beaten up by their husbands and sons to fathers who rape their little ones.
Parents now are more reluctant than ever to entrust their beloved girl-child under the care or watch of the male house-help or even some male relatives.
Reading local and regional papers, one ponders the roots of such inhuman acts of evil against the female sex.
Given that Rwanda is one of the African countries with tough laws against gender based violence, with stipulated sentences, including life imprisonment for worst offenders, one then wonders why this has not served as a deterrent.
The enactment of the Gender Based Violence Act, late last year was done after much concerted efforts at sensitizing the communities, on the wrongs of the vice.
At a regional level there are declarations and protocols on GBV, most of which our governments are signatory to. Much of this seems to have just remained statements of intent on paper, failing to translate to a peaceful existence for the women.
So why is it that the women find themselves in the grips of these primitive misogynistic tendencies?
I would like to risk the argument that violence on the African continent comes from remnants of the old patriarchal order failing to come to terms with a society that is fast changing, where women have fought for their rights and still demand a more dignified existence.
These are men who are unashamedly still tied to the old rigid stereotypical gender roles that in perpetuity confine women to brainless second class citizens. Patriarchy the oldest from of oppression now expresses itself in this warped masculinity – violence against helpless women and girls.
Some of the male perpetrators arrested by police mostly claim to have been under the influence of evil spirits, or some other such hogwash.
The Rwanda National Police in its latest crime report also attributes GBV to substance abuse.
Rwanda shines out as a leading example in the empowerment of women and girls. Not only is the country lauded for tremendous achievements in the empowerment of women as witnessed in their role in nation-building, the country also boasts of the highest number of women in parliament, the world-over.
One then wonders at the nexus between increased women’s empowerment and visibility and this violence against them.
Gender activists have defined this phenomenon as patriarchal-backlash, the men who are slowly being denied what they perceive to be their privileged status in society, find ways of hitting back – warped masculinity in the form violence.
Rape has always been instrument of war in conflict situations – that does not exclude the war between the sexes in other domains, in particular the domestic. Rwanda for instance is one of the few countries that defines and outlaws marital rape, something many other African parliaments have failed to agree on.
At a national level we have seen in the retrogressive politics in Kenya and Zimbabwe how women in the opposing camps were violently raped or even beaten up.
Indeed, this pales compared to the violence that was visited on Rwandan women, during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.
Women’s bodies become the war terrain, where the contest for power takes place, from incidences of psychological abuse in the public domain, to a few slaps at home, ultimately - femicide the killing of women because they are women.
Year after year research carried out in South-Africa indicates that femicide remains the biggest crime against women, with statistics at an alarming one in five women killed by their intimate partners.
Consequently, research carried out in other countries has shown that successful patriarchal back-lash means the women, out of fear of the increased physical and emotional violence against them – retreat into their previous positions of subordination.
You find dwindling numbers of women who for instance stand for public office, as they opt for their traditional gender roles –mistress, mother and home-keeper.
This then presents urgency for policy-makers and gender activists at two levels; the first being stopping the violence against women and secondly by ensuring sensitization of the men to realize, empowered women are not their enemies. Women by their nature think in the collective, be it in the policy initiatives they make in parliament or in how they use the incomes they earn. They build communities and homes.
It has been said again and again that there is no way Africa can realize her development aspirations, when half of her population is battered and cowed. Governments have to start calculating the costs of violence against women to national development.
Governments have the huge task of ensuring that legislation in place does not just remain on paper, but becomes a reality for the women on the ground.
We can take a leaf from Rwanda’s example on the role women have played in nation building, reconstruction and development, which should serve as an example for the rest of the continent and in particular the male-folk.