Gender-based violence awareness program opens eyes in Rwanda

A woman holding a baby visit the
A woman and child visit a haven for survivors of rape and genocide in Rwanda. (Photo: UN)

Emmanuel, a pastor in northern Rwanda, had always considered himself a model husband. That is, until he attended a gender-based violence awareness programme in his community that showed him he had been violent to his wife to a degree that is considered illegal.

“When I learned that my behavior was not acceptable, I changed,” Pastor Emmanuel said. “And I promised to share what I had learned with the rest of the men in my community and beyond.”

Highlights

  • A new Gender Desk at Rwanda's National Police Headquarters is responding to, and spreading awareness of, gender-based violence.
  • Police records from January to September, 2008 show 428 cases of physical assault, 1,959 of rape and 75 of domestic homicide.
  • Men in Rwanda often don't perceive violence towards women as wrong due to society's acceptance of gender inequalities.

In Rwanda, a United Nations (UN)-supported Gender Desk at the National Police Headquarters is providing legal and psychological support for survivors of domestic violence. The programme is also raising awareness, particularly among men, about violence towards women.

The initiative is a result of a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and the UN, assisted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is currently supported by the UN's Delivering as One Programme.

As part of its awareness efforts, the Desk is also educating police officers about gender-based violence.

“As the police are responsible for investigating gender and domestic violence cases, they have to understand gender inequalities and gender-based violence,” said Violet Kaberanze, a consultant at the gender Desk.

The Desk also runs a hotline, which, according to Kaberanze, “helps them listen to victims, take violence against women as a security and human rights issue and to be compassionate to them."

One of the first cases reported to the Desk that of a mother who discovered that her 14 year-old daughter had been repeatedly raped by the girl’s guardian. Not knowing where else to turn, the mother contacted a UN programme officer, who in turn referred her to the Gender Desk.

The programme comes on the heels of landmark achievements in women’s rights in Rwanda, including the Gender-Based Violence Bill passed by Rwanda's Parliament in 2009. The bill, which was supported by UN organizations, defines gender-based violence and calls for its prevention through educational campaigns and the legal punishment of perpetrators.

“Here, the violence-affected woman or girl has the chance to have her case be investigated – and perpetrators brought to justice,” Kaberanze added.

Police records on reported cases of violence from January to September 2008 show 428 cases of physical assault, 307 cases of rape of adults, 1,652 cases of rape of children under 18, and 75 cases of domestic homicide.

Additionally, more than 400 cases of rape and sexual abuse ended up in court during the first half of 2008. From these cases, 68 percent of offenders were convicted and 32 percent acquitted.

The Gender Desk helped to investigate these cases and ensure that evidence was available for court proceedings.