Although Rwanda is striving to become a gender-equal nation, gender-based domestic violence is still widespread. A theater group has embarked on a crusade against the scourge.
Charlotte Nyiraneza, the president of Umurinzi-- a group that is fighting to stop gender-based violence (GBV) through theatre-was doing research on women in 2005, when she started to realize that one the greatest problems that women were facing was domestic violence.
This inspired her to start fighting the practice, and she decided to set up a theater group to do so.
“75% of women are victims of domestic violence, according to my research. I also found that the problem is the biggest in Mutara and Ruhengeri,” Nyiraneza says.
The Umurinzi president, who has already made movies such as ‘Is it you, my child?’ and ‘Life’ which deal with the subject, adds that the main causes of the problem are culture and ignorance.
“You see, most husbands, especially in Mutara, still follow traditional cultural practices, which often cause domestic violence. For instance, they believe that women are not supposed to know their secrets, and if they do they are in trouble,” Nyiraneza explains.
She also points out that many men still think that women are supposed to work like donkeys in their homes.
“When you visit some of these families in Mutara, most of the women who are victims of domestic violence will tell you that they do everything-fetching water, cooking, looking after the kids. Their man is just waiting to be served,” Nyiraneza remarks.
And she adds that this mentality is not only prevalent among the lowly educated. “There was a family that I visited, in which the husband was a university graduate; but what his wife told me was shocking.
I could at first not believe that she was a victim of domestic violence,” Charlotte Nyiraneza says.
The president of Umurinzi points out that the problem is aggravated by the fact that most victims don’t want to talk about it, and become traumatized. Therefore, the theater group always has a debate with the audience after the performance.
“After every theater show we have an open discussion with the audience. They always tell us what they have learnt, and this has helped many victims to have the courage of speaking out,” Nyiraneza, says.
Christophe Mushinzimana, one of the actors in the group, remarks that the problem of domestic violence affects all people in society, so it should become everyone’s concern to stop it.
“Many people are doing it ignorantly, and therefore government and non-government organizations, the Church as well as local leaders should help and sensitize the general public, because our effort cannot reach the whole country,” Mushinzimana explains.
The actor also points out that the victims should learn to speak out so that they are helped, if not they will continue to suffer. He also thinks that men who are found guilty of the vice should not be put into prison but instead educated so that they realize that what they are doing is wrong.
One of his colleagues, Clement Nzigirigena, admits that although he loves acting, he hates to play the role of a violent husband.
“I always wonder: why should a man beat his beloved one? Why would I beat someone to whom I at one time said that I loved her?” Nzigirigena asks.
“Some men are really not serious. For instance, why would I not wash the dishes or help the woman I call my love? Men should stop thinking that women are there to do everything in the house.
“And if I have a problem, why shouldn’t I share it with my wife? People should learn to be open to each other.”