OPINION: High hopes as Rwandans celebrate women’s day

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, Rwanda, and especially her women have an exceptional reason to celebrate, for at this moment, a ‘Special Law against Gender Based Violence awaits publication in the official gazette.

As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, Rwanda, and especially her women have an exceptional reason to celebrate, for at this moment, a ‘Special Law against Gender Based Violence awaits publication in the official gazette.

The enactment of this law will no doubt curb different forms of violence, more effectively than before, and for this, women rights activists in the country see a ray of hope into this long-awaited law.

According to its architects, the ‘GBV law’ as it is commonly referred to, has the speciality of defining and penalising different forms of gender based violence that were not previously recognised in ordinary laws of the country.

This speciality leaves many with an expectation that it will better protect, especially women and children, who have been victims of violent behaviours afflicted against them, mainly by men.

“There are things that were previously not punishable, like rape in marriage that was ignored by our laws,” explains Honorable Aimable Nibishaka, a Member of Parliament (MP) who has been on the gender desk of the House for years.

The population and opinion leaders across the country were engaged in the drafting process in order to elaborate this law and at this point when it has reached the step of promulgation, Nibishaka still insists that there is no reason why people should wait to publish it.

His view is very close to that of many other activists.

“This law is urgently needed given the problems in place,” says one of the activists against GBV who is also among top officials in the Ministry of Justice.

By documenting cases of Gender Based Violence from 2005 to 2008, the Rwanda National Police last year revealed alarming cases of attacks against women including rape, defilement, corporal punishment as well as murder by their husbands.

Their report suggested that, during the three years, 259 wives were murdered by their husbands, over 2000 cases of rape were reported to the police, and there were almost 10,000 cases of defilement of children below the age of 18.

Campaigns for the protection of women against violence have been high in the country since the end of last year.

A lot of sensitisation on the rights was coupled with the formation of gender desks in different institutions of the country to ensure continued awareness.

The publication of a special law is one thing, but another task still at hand remains the community education on the existing laws.

Courts and human rights activists have been facing challenges while trying to render justice against GBV because many Citizens fail to respect laws while engaging in forming families where most of the violence cases take place.

One member of Haguruka, an association that fights for women and children’s rights, argued during a public discussion last October that it remained difficult to settle matters for women who sue their husbands while their marriages are not legalized.

The challenge remains the same in efforts to help children whose parents are not written in government books, explained Marie Immaculée Ingabire. “Rwandans should learn to respect laws,” she urged.

Thus, it will always require each and every body’s input for justice to be rendered even after the publication of the new law.

Activists also insist that the government needs to increase its support to women and young girls during the process of finding proof for rape or physical abuse.

For instance, some victims don’t access free services in hospitals or free lawyers in courts when they deal with the aftermath of violence.

Even with such a task at hand in as far as protecting women’s rights is concerned, the implementation of the new law is likely to bring hope to thousands of GBV victims in the country.

kwirwa@gmail.com.