Eugenia [not real name] is a 35-year-old woman from Rwamagana District. She is married with two children, and they live off produce from their land. There are limited employment opportunities in her village, especially for women. Even if there were opportunities, Eugenia’s husband wouldn’t have allowed her to pursue them – he preferred her to remain at home.
Eugenia is one of the women supported by Indashyikirwa, a gender-based violence prevention programme funded by UK Aid.
Eugenia first heard about the Indashyikirwa women’s safe space at a community meeting, but was worried her husband wouldn’t allow her to participate. When women’s safe space facilitators visited her home, he agreed.
“They explained to me that each person has power and can do something using his or her power. For example, I knew how to make a basket but I didn’t know I could sell it. Because I was confined at home, I was affected by solitude, but when I arrived at the women’s space, I got out of my loneliness. I felt I had power within myself that allowed me to do something with my fellow women. I started to sell the baskets and I was able to pay for my community health insurance, whereas I couldn’t pay for it before.”
Eugenia now shares what she learns at the safe space with her husband and children, such as the value of making joint decisions, openly communicating, and sharing domestic duties between both men and women. She hopes one day soon her husband will attend the space – which is open to everyone – with her, but for now, he is increasingly supportive within their household.
“He understands that when people team up and do housework they have peace, because if you come home tired and you find they have prepared a meal for you, you feel relieved and tomorrow you go to work feeling that you are a human being and not a tool.”
Gender-based violence remains high in Rwanda. The 2015 Domestic Health Survey (DHS) estimates that 43.9 per cent of all women aged 15-49 have suffered physical or sexual violence.
Complementing Government-led efforts to address this, UK Aid is supporting families to bring gender equality into the home, and prevent and respond to violence in their communities through training, safe spaces, activism, and advocacy.
Indashyikirwa, which has been operating since 2015, is also contributing to DFID’s unprecedented £25 million ‘What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls’ global research programme, which includes 15 projects across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Sarah Metcalf, Head of DFID Rwanda, said: “The 16 Days of Activism are an important time for us to speak up about this issue. Many don’t realise that economic deprivation is also a form of violence. The evidence emerging from our Indashyikirwa programme, including stories like Eugenia’s, is showing us the importance of women’s economic empowerment, coupled with a supportive partner and shared financial planning within the household, in preventing violence. That reinforces how critical gender equality is to development, and vice versa. These lessons we are learning are specific to the Rwandan context, but this is a global issue so they will also inform interventions around the world.”