Haguruka: Amplifying the voice of vulnerable women and children

When she was a teen, Clementine Uwamahoro came face-to-face with evil that robbed her of her innocence.
Men too are senstised on what the law requires of them. Courtesy photo
Men too are senstised on what the law requires of them. Courtesy photo

When she was a teen, Clementine Uwamahoro came face-to-face with evil that robbed her of her innocence.

Uwamahoro was raped by her brother-in-law, and shockingly, with the help of her own sister. Her sister had failed to give birth and on advice of a ‘traditional’ doctor, her husband was advised to sleep with his wife’s younger sister and that way, they would conceive.

Traumatised beyond words, Uwamahoro later sought justice with support of Haguruka and the perpetrators were taken to court.

“At Haguruka I was not only provided with a lawyer who defended me at no cost. I was also counselled to help with the trauma of sexual abuse,” she says.

Uwamahoro was to be paid for the damages, Rwf 3,600,000 to be exact, and the culprit was sentenced to five years in prison.

Uwamahoro is just one of the many beneficiaries that have been rescued by Haguruka. Many victims of gender-based violence and property theft, among other issues, have sought and received justice through Haguruka.

Clarisee Igiraneza,a victim of gender-based violence, sought refuge under Haguruka’s wing.

Her marriage turned out to be abusive and her husband abused her so badly, that he even attacked her with her spear. Igiraneza made the decision to file for a divorce.

With the twist in the system,all her property, including what she had inherited from her own family, was given to her ex-husband and she was left with nothing.

Amidst confusion and hurt, Igiraneza turned to Haguruka hoping to get justice and get back her property.

“For years I had tried to seek justice but no one seemed to help. When I approached Haguruka they provided me with a lawyer who represented me in court for free and I was able to get back all my property. I am extremely happy to have received my property back and I thank the organisation for standing by me through that hard time,” she says.

Each month, over 80 cases are received at the centre.

Nesta Narcisse Rutagengwa, the programmes coordinator at Haguruka, says they receive a very big number of cases related to property, absentee fathers, family conflicts, gender-based violence, among others.

He says the fact that these problems still prevail is a result of the people’s mindset.

“There are many initiatives put in place by the government, there are also a number of organisations like ours that aim at preventing such issues, however, the mindset of the people themselves is still a hindrance. And this is on both sides, that is, the victims and the perpetrators. At times they both don’t know what the law requires of them,” Rutagengwa explains.

“What we do is continue raising awareness regardless of the years we have spent doing this; we believe that with time it will bring about the required impact,” he adds.

Rutagengwa strongly believes that to solve issues of women and children is as good as solving the issues of the country at large.

“Children are the future, if they have problems the country has problems as well. It’s only sensible that they receive the required support.”

Background of the organisation

Haguruka is a non-government organisation that was established 27 years ago to defend the rights of women and children.

Apart from providing legal aid and support to gender-based violence victims, the organisation also offers psychosocial counselling and advocacy.

With its regional centres in each of the four provinces, that is, Kayonza in Eastern Province; Nyanza in Southern Province; Nyamasheke in Western Province; Musanze in Northern Province; and its headquarters in Kigali, Haguruka has a wide platform to help beneficiaries all over the country.

The organisation works with 416 paralegals equating to one paralegal in each sector of Rwanda.

Ninette Umurerwa, National Executive Secretary of Haguruka, says that the organisation encompasses the quality of delivering services to its beneficiaries in a confidential manner.

“Haguruka contributes to the advocacy for promotion of women and children’s rights on existing laws. We go to the grass roots to teach our beneficiaries about what the law says. We also ensure that we keep on updating them with the new laws set in place,” she says.

Umurerwa explains that the process to accessing the services offered by the organisation begins with an individual who is received by a counsellor in a closed office that guarantees confidentiality. Thereafter, the case of the beneficiary is received and recorded.

On the other hand, conducting public and community mobilisation, raising awareness on gender-based violence’s prevention, offering training about land laws and property rights is a crucial aspect, Umurerwa says.

Rutagengwa notes that with the years Haguruka has been in service, a lot has been achieved, emphasising the fact that their mediation strategy has seen a number of cases solved amicably.

“Through mediation we have seen families reconcile, children are registered; unwed couples have come to terms with legalising their marriages, and so forth. We prefer the approach of mediation where we first seek settling matters amicably but when it fails, we then take matters to court.”

The organisation has also implemented a number of projects where they have produced guideline booklets that simplify laws for the citizens to understand.

Future plans

Umurerwa says that the organisation has developed a five-year strategic plan that will ensure proper deliverance of service and offering of support to its beneficiaries.

Preventing human trafficking in Rwanda through social and judicial integration, promoting awareness within the government and the judiciary about women and children’s rights, and strengthening laws and procedures, are among the aspects that will be focused on.

The organisation also plans to put in more effort when it comes to supporting women and children in accessing justice and reducing vulnerability, plus reducing the number of gender-based violence cases and ensuring access to justice, security and counselling for victims.