As the world celebrated the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women yesterday, it emerged that violence against women continues to be a global problem, despite the efforts to curb it.
According to the United Nations, 35 per cent of women and girls globally experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.
Worldwide, more than 700 million women were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15, and an estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation.
Indeed, violence against women is still a serious issue and governments all over the world are grappling with the matter.
State of GBV in Rwanda
Rwanda on the other hand, performed well on issues related to women empowerment, and this involves the fight against gender based violence (GBV). As a result the country remains a reference point whenever referring to success stories of women empowerment.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2015, Rwanda was ranked sixth in closing gender gaps in the world.
However, despite these achievements, challenges still prevail and a lot remains to be done in order to achieve a society free of violence against women.
Statistics from Rwanda National Police show that cases of gender based violence have declined. Last year, 1433 defilement cases were handled by police, compared to 750 defilement cases recorded by police this year.
Rape cases have also dropped from 284 to 147 cases reported across the country in 2015. The same trend is noticed in the category of physical abuse where cases handled by police have reduced from 541 in 2014 to 320 this year.
In 2014 about 37 women were murdered by their husbands but this has also gone down to 22 cases this year. In 2014, 271 cases of women battering were filed but this has also reduced to 145 so far.
Allen Cyizanye, the in charge of monitoring the fight against gender based violence and other injustices at the Gender Monitoring Office, says that the positive trend shows that the government of Rwanda is determined to eradicate any form of gender based violence and child abuse through legal policy frameworks, and enforcement measures to ensure effective implementation.
Isange One Stop Centre, a specialized (and free) referral centre where survivors of gender based violence are rehabilitated, has been critical in this drive.
Also, government established Justice Bureaus in thirty districts to facilitate easy access to justice for the community, especially women and children, and are conducting legal literacy and provision of legal services.
Umugorobaw’ababyeyi, a platform at the village level has been instrumental in GBV fight. It brings parents together to discuss strategies that can help improve their relationships, and prevent and resolve conflicts that arise in their households, among others.
However, gender activists still argue that there are challenges especially the fear to report GBV by some victims.
“Despite efforts made in GBV prevention, there are still challenges that need to be addressed, such as limited reporting of violence cases, lack of evidence during the prosecution, low engagement of men in the prevention and response initiatives on gender based violence, among others,” Cyizanye says.
She notes that various measures are being devised to effectively handle issues of gender based violence.
She says, “There is continuous monitoring of service delivery to victims of gender based violence and child abuse and this will contribute to the timely response and provision of quality services to the victims. The scale up of the Isange One Stop Centre is also continuous and the standards of the already existing ones also continue to be upgraded depending on the emerging needs of victims.”
Within the global framework, Rwanda, is committed to achieving zero tolerance for GBV.
Edouard Munyamaliza, the executive secretary of Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), says that the involvement of men in the fight against violence can definitely help achieve remarkable results.
He says that to achieve development, the first thing one has to realise is that fighting against gender based violence can be achieved through women empowerment.
Campaigns such as HeForShe call upon men to get involved in fights against such acts of gender based violence. Women empowerment is not enough if men don’t have a positive attitude towards it.
“Men should understand that the best way to be a real man is to actually support women. And men benefit too because if they change their own attitude towards women, they create positive and healthy ways to co-exist,” Munyamaliza says.
He adds that some men think that women empowerment is a threat to them, which is completely wrong.
“A man’s attitude is based on the traditional belief that a man has to be dominant and if a woman grows in power then it is a threat to his manhood, which isn’t the case,” he says.
Munyamaliza adds that for people to change their attitude and behavior positively; it is a slow and very long process.
RWAMREC works with men through workshops at the village level to help them reflect on their life experiences.
And with that, they will definitely challenge notions of masculinity that are violent and discriminatory.
“It’s only when you reflect on your own life that you are able to challenge yourself on the attitudes that need change,” he says.
Nicolette Nsabimana, the founder and director of Centre Marembo, an organisation that helps young girls that are sexually abused, says that efforts to fight violence against women are tremendous though the problem still prevails.
She says that cases are still high among young girls because they don’t know their rights, and can’t even fight for them.
“Laws against violence are indeed available in Rwanda but the implementation is still a challenge, so more effort is required. Another challenge is the follow up of cases of abuse; it’s really hard for those who commit crimes to get justice. Some cases are not attended to,” Nsabimana says.
Also, people need to be sensitized so that the fear of coming out in the event of violence is ruled out, Nsabimana adds.
Godance Mugeni, the president of TuraseKuntego, a cooperative that fights against gender based violence in Nyanza, says that cases of violence are present in their area.
She says it’s the same issue that triggered the need to start a cooperative to fight GBV.
“The start of the cooperative made a big difference, and cases of violence against women are indeed reducing. We have managed to achieve a lot and I hope that this will continue,” Mugeni says.
She adds, “We will continue urging women to stand up for themselves, help them know their rights and urge those who fear to speak out and get the courage to address violence.”
Any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women not only affects them but society at large. The fight against GBV is every one’s responsibility.
Signs of abuse
It can be hard to know if you’re being abused. You may think that cruel or threatening words are not abuse and sometimes emotional abuse is a sign that a person will become physically violent.
Below is a list of possible signs of abuse. Some of these are illegal. All of them are wrong. You may be abused if your partner:
•Dominance – Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his or her possession.
•Humiliation – An abuser will do everything he or she can to make you feel bad about yourself or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you’re worthless and that no one else will want you, you’re less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
•Isolation – In order to increase your dependence on him or her, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. He or she may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone.
•Threats – Abusers commonly use threats to keep their partners from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. He or she may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.
•Intimidation – Your abuser may use a variety of intimidation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don’t obey, there will be violent consequences.
•Denial and blame – Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abusive partner may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. He or she will commonly shift the responsibility on to you: Somehow, his or her violent and abusive behavior is your fault.
•Monitors what you’re doing all the time.
•Unfairly accuses you of being unfaithful all the time.
•Prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family.
•Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school.
•Gets very angry during and after drinking alcohol or using drugs.
•Humiliates you in front of others.
•Destroys your property or things that you care about.
Understanding emotional abuse
Emotional abuse damages your feelings of self-worth and independence. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you have nothing.
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviour also fall under emotional abuse.
You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars. The scars of emotional abuse are very real, though, and they run deep. In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so.
Women need access to legal representation
Vestine Maria Dusabe, businesswoman
I believe society can help by providing women with access to legal representation once their rights are abused. Many people suffer in silence, not knowing where or how to report the injustices done to them and in the process, allowing the perpetrators to get away with it. Giving women a platform where they can access justice is a better solution.
More campaigns on the issue needed
I think more campaigns that aim at sensitising and educating women on gender-based violence; its causes and prevention, is the best way forward. Some women are not aware of what gender-based violence is, they endure it because they lack knowledge on it. I believe sensitization campaigns would enlighten them and give them basic knowledge on how to deal with the issue.
The government should take the lead
Grace Nshuti, student
The government should put more emphasis on promoting initiatives and campaigns that aim at curbing gender-based violence. The government has the power to introduce policies and boost the existing initiatives targeting gender- based violence. In my opinion, the government has to take the lead.
It is everyone’s responsibility to fight GBV
Chantal Zuba, event planner
Every member of the community should be the voice of the voiceless and say no to gender-based violence. Men should be warned against violence against their wives and females in general. In order to live in a world free of violence, every member of the community should take the initiative to be an eye for their neighbours and report any gender-based violence case.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba