Openness is the key to fighting gender based violence

FROM November 16, Rwandan gender activists joined the rest of the world in awareness campaigns in an effort to stem gender based violence. It is widely known that sexual and physical abuse is already having a profound effect on women’s participation in development worldwide.  

FROM November 16, Rwandan gender activists joined the rest of the world in awareness campaigns in an effort to stem gender based violence.

It is widely known that sexual and physical abuse is already having a profound effect on women’s participation in development worldwide.

This demonstrates the urgent need to explore lasting solutions to stem the vice; this must include investigating what happens in families, beyond merely waiting for what is being reported after the fact. There is need to first address the ‘silence syndrome’. This calls for more sensitisation of women to report their abusive husbands.

There is lot of discussion about the effect of polygamy in gender based violence.

However, authorities and activists in Rwanda should start by admitting the failure of one-man one-wife campaign in this regard: its promotion prevents women in polygamous marriages to be open.

The current policy commits men to formalising their marriages with one wife. But reports indicate that in rural areas like Musanze and Kirehe Districts polygamy is widely practised.

“All men are polygamists by nature. Polygamy is very common here, some men have four wives,” said a woman from Kirehe on a local FM station talk show on Saturday.

“If I catch my husband cheating on me, I forgive him, there is nothing you can do,” said another woman. 

These were only some of the women’s views on the radio. The programme was apparently organised in line with the 16 days of activism against gender violence, but it later drifted into discussing polygamy.

I was left wondering whether the efforts against polygamy run counter to people’s interests.

Polygamy remains practised in many African societies. And, personally, I believe there are many women who are happily married in polygamous marriages. Although, in recent times, population control makes monogamy seem the smarter way to go.

The views of women on the radio talk show however, suggest the incidents of polygamy are so common that the women are not concerned. Yet, when you ask local leaders to provide statistics on cases of polygamy, I’m sure few of them will provide such figures just because such marriages are not recognised.

In the absence of reliable figures on alleged polygamists, there is little evidence to suggest that polygamy is a big threat.

And it is understood that women, who are meant to be protected, never raise the issue. Some women, who seem to bear the brunt of polygamy, defend their husbands saying all the talk about men’s honesty are just lies.

Listening to the radio show, I couldn’t help but think promoting monogamy will meet its target-one legally recognised wife-but it will not stop men from having other women or mistresses.

Sadly, this leaves the other woman and children, somewhere, at risk of silently suffering with abuse.

One therefore, hopes that the women in polygamous marriages, who may be suffering silently, are not left out in anti-gender violence campaigns.

jtasamba@gmail.com

The author is a journalist with The New Times

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