In an effort to call attention to violence against women and help them seek justice former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought up the challenge women face when seeking justice
“If the face of justice is always a man, it’s no surprise women are less likely to seek help and get help,” Rice said while speaking at a Senior Roundtable for Women’s justice in the US last year.
Although most countries have laws against rape, violence and other crimes against women, in some, “courts and prosecutors are often unwilling or unable to catch and punish those responsible,” she added. “Passing laws is not enough. Laws must be enforced. What good are a country’s laws, when its institutions lack the will, are under-resourced or are in some cases just too unsympathetic?”
Rice’s perspective reflects the reality happening to women in the different parts world today.
It was reported in The New Times last week that a Marie Louise Nsanzimana 19 is seeking justice for a crime that was committed two years back.
Nsanzimana got pregnant at the age of 17, she successfully delivered at a hospital in Muzanze district, however, her baby disappeared a couple of hours after birth.
According to court documents and her testimony, the baby was supposedly taken for vaccination, but never returned.
Nsanzimana claimed that while she was working as a house help for a community leader, he tempted her into having sex and he later denied fathering the baby. The community leader went on to fire Nsanzimana.
She reported to police who turned her away, claiming there was no evidence. However they promised to carry out a DNA test upon delivery.
When the baby disappeared, her former boss and two hospital nurses were arrested on suspicion of stealing the newborn. Eight months later they were released for the lack of evidence.
Nsanzimana’s heartbreaking story is a just one example of what women all over the world have to go through in life.
Women often find it impossible to get justice for gender related issues. The society treats women’s problems as minor domestic matters which should be addressed within the home.
According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA ), one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way - most often by someone she knows, including her husband or family member. Violence against women continues to be the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse all over the world.
Gender-based violence is sustained by a culture of silent and denial of justice particularly because the law enforcement officers often chose to under estimate it.
Yet the harm they exert on the individual leaves a heavy and unnecessary burden on the victim’s life.
Women are often sexually harassed and sometimes forced to have sex with their male bosses. It goes without saying, most women feel embarrassed to report such behaviour. On the other hand, those who gather the courage to report such cases to the police are often frustrated by the justice system, as was the case with Nsanzimana’s.
When the three suspects were released, it was clear indication that court decisions are increasingly preventing women from seeking justice.
Nsanzimana was only 17, even before the baby issue had come up, a defilement case would have been opened against the suspect. The Rwandan law stipulates that defilement is punishable by up to 25 years in jail.
Fortunately for Nsanzimana, the National Human Rights Commission picked interest in her case and exposed the flaws in the investigations that were carried out.
Our culture permits men to be responsible for their women. Those who desert their homes because of domestic violence are blamed and treated as social outcasts. This leaves them to suffer additional mental torture.
Those entrusted with administering justice, should know better than anybody that justice delayed is justice denied. Two years down the road, Nsanzimana is still wondering what happened to her baby!
If legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all.
It is important that the courts of law are sensitive to women who have been abused if domestic related violence is to stop. Women too should gather courage and to report such cases.
Legal experts ought to be gender sensitive in their work. A fast and efficient judicial system will sow seeds of hope for so many women out there who are abused on a daily basis but choose to remain silent.