The Rwandan Government has shown high political will for gender equality and commitment to eradicate gender-based violence (GBV) by establishing legal, policy, and institutional frameworks that are committed to gender equality in all development processes and ending GBV. From the constitution, there is strong alignment to human rights and equality principles. In addition, the newly revised law governing persons and family explicitly mentions that at household level, both men and women are equal heads of household. There are also other laws to ensure gender equality such as: the law on land and property, which gives equal ownership of land and property to men and women, as well as the inheritance and succession law which gives equal right to inheritance to women, men, boys and girls.
In addition, there is a standalone law punishing GBV and a GBV policy and strategic plan. There are also different interventions that have been put in place to fight against GBV including centers known as “Isange one stop centers”, where holistic services including health, legal aid, and counselling services are provided to GBV victims, which are now located in all districts of the country. Further, women’s leadership at top levels continues to increase. In recent parliamentary elections, women took 61% of seats and represent 50% of those in cabinet after a recent reshuffle.
Despite all these efforts, there remains a disconnect between the lived realities of women and girls and the ‘gender sensitive’ laws, policies interventions in place. For instance, despite the law on equal ownership of property and land, Rwandan women have little to no say in how land and land produce is used. In reality, there remains power imbalances between men and women. GBV in the country continues to be widespread. Cases of murdered women are reported almost on a daily basis. Women’s rights organizations argue that this is linked to the deep-rooted patriarchal system within which, women are still being less valued, especially at the household level. Interventions in place haven’t translated to change in power relations and therefore, sustainable efforts to systemically end GBV need to be more focused at the household level and with individuals rather than in superficial interventions. This needs dedicated efforts and allocation of sufficient resources. A recent study conducted by Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe, a women’s rights network, shows that there is less priority given to gender equality and GBV interventions in national and district plans, so there is a lack of interventions aimed at addressing power imbalances at the household level. The study also shows that there is limited CSO consultations and women and girls’ participation in setting priorities in national and district plans and budgets.
The recently adopted national strategy for transformation (NST1) has identified Rwandan priorities through three key pillars of economic, social, and governance and it highlights gender equality as an important cross-cutting area that needs to be taken into consideration in all ministries and districts plans. However, at central government levels, consultations with different stakeholders are minimal. At the district level, there exists no specific planning and budgeting spaces open to citizens.
Based on analysis of different sector and district plans, social aspects of planning and budgeting are given little importance, specifically, different types of GBV. For example, for the 2015-2016 financial year, in the annual plans, also known as “Imihigo” or performance contracts, for 17 of the 30 Rwandan districts, only 50% of the districts planned activities that address GBV. Still, even those that planned activities that address GBV, they only had one activity which monitors forums known as “Umugoroba w’ababyeyi” which mean “parents evening forums”, which are community spaces that have been established to discuss and resolve GBV issues. Monitoring of these forums is very minimal and cannot ensure the eradication of the widespread and deep-rooted GBV issues in Rwandan communities.
Similarly, structures that are meant to represent women’s voices, like the national women council, do not operate adequately, and need urgent strengthening in terms of capacity, guidelines, and resources, to ensure views from these structures are channeled in District level and national planning and budgeting.
Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe and other civil society organizations are concerned that Rwandan women and girls continue to be victims of GBV resulting from deep-rooted power inequalities between men and women. They are calling for increased commitment and accountability through central and local government level plans and budgets to implement structural and transformative measures to prevent and respond to gender inequalities.