March 8 is International Women’s Day. It is the day for the world to reflect on the problem of inequality that reflects itself in a multitude of harmful ways that not only hinder the life chances of women and girls across but also affect their health.
On this day President Paul Kagame sent to the world a message intended to raise not only the thinking but also the actions around this challenge. He said; “Women are a cornerstone of prosperity for society as a whole. There is an unacceptably high cost to gender based inequality. It is important to act together. Not women on one side and men on the other. No one loses when women and girls experience equality and empowerment.”
One of the areas that require significant effort is in the protection of women and girls from gender based violence. The extent of the problem at the global level is alarming. Some studies show that as many as seven in ten women have experienced physical violence at some point in their lifetime. A recent study by the World Health Organisation declared GBV as global public health concern due to the “damages to their health and wellbeing” that result from the abuse.
The United Nations has also called upon states to take the issue of GBV seriously by not only implementing internationally agreed accords but also to raise the awareness in different societies about its harmful effects. Indeed, different frameworks have been established in efforts to pool resources and coordinate responses at global and regional levels.
Political will has been an essential factor in such efforts. The challenge in this regard has mainly been in ensuring that global and national instruments for fighting GBV are enforced and that there is adequate sensitisation in society to understand that a serious problem exists. Moreover, political will signals to society that cultural practices that harm women and girls are not condoned and that serious punitive actions await those who insist on perpetuating such archaic traditions.
Rwanda takes the problem of GBV seriously. It has established one stop centres across the country to ensure that victims of such get the support they need. This includes holistic support that aims to address the multiple effects of the abuse such as the need to receive medical, psychosocial, and law enforcement support to deliver justice to the victims. However, there is also the aspect of prevention where communities are sensitised on the harm that GBV does to families and society.
Rwandans have been receptive to the services of the Isange and more women and girls are reporting cases to law enforcement and seeking the support of the Centre. Indeed, its relative success has signalled to the world Rwanda’s sense of urgency to combat the vice. A decision was made to establish the regional centre of excellence in Kigali, and on 30 January 2010, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the then UN Secretary General, launched the centre with the mandate to mobilise the solidarity of African states in efforts to end all violence against women and girls.
Established at Rwanda National Police (RNP) General Headquarters at Kacyiru, the centre formally known as the Kigali International Conference Declaration (KICD), coordinates efforts across the African continent.
Working closely with sister institutions, the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) and the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), KICD coordinates efforts to adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; increase public awareness and social mobilization; address sexual violence in conflict areas; and to ensure safety for women and girls in public places.
Greater strides have been made at local and regional levels. Most importantly, there is greater awareness of the harm of gender based violence to societies on the African continent. Indeed, where there is political will the results have been encouraging and resources have been pooled to work together to share experiences.
Our experience is that there is greater ownership of the problem in our society. As the awareness that results from gender based violence has grown in our communities, there has been lesser tolerance for it and this has shown in increasing reporting. Victims are also emboldened due to the increasing environment that recognises that the harm they face is not condoned at any level of society. In other words, there is greater recognition that “No one loses when women and girls experience equality and empowerment.”
The author is the Commissioner for Cooperation and Protocol in Rwanda National Police.