16 days of activism: Persisting challenges in addressing Gender Based Violence in Rwanda

December 14, 2016

BY Chantal Umuhoza

Rwanda, as other countries worldwide is participating in the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence, a yearly campaign which starts from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. The two dates were chosen to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. In Rwanda, this year’s campaign is being conducted as part of the National Anti Gender Based Violence and Child Abuse campaign launched by the Prime Minister in October 2016. 

The Government of Rwanda has demonstrated political will and commitment to eradicate any form of gender based violence and child abuse. Strong legal and policy frameworks were enacted and effective measures were adopted to ensure their effective implementation. Countrywide centers that provide comprehensive free-of-charge services to survivors of GBV are operational, including medical care, legal and psycho–social support. Strong collaboration among different institutions is evident in the country which includes security and justice organs. Anti-GBV directorates were established within the Rwanda National Police, Rwanda Defense Forces and National Public Prosecution Authority to support the implementation of the National Policy against Gender Based Violence.  

Despite the strong legal and policy framework that the government of Rwanda has put in place and robust implementation of policies that aim to eradicate GBV in Rwanda, GBV is still widespread in the country. Since 2010, data collected from the centers show that more than 2000 GBV cases (rape and defilement) are reported annually, highlighting persisting underlying causes of GBV that need to be addressed holistically and comprehensively.

Regarding service delivery to GBV survivors, only “1 Isange one stop center” is available per district and survivors sometimes have to travel long distances to reach these centers. In addition, the free-of charge services are only offered to survivors that are from the poorest of the poor, meaning that some people may not be able to afford some services required i.e. legal aid. In addition, there’s no DNA laboratory in Rwanda, thus, conviction and sentencing of GBV perpetrators can take time. According to NPPA, between 2003 and 2004, less than a half of GBV cases reported were investigated and sentenced (43% of child defilement cases and 36% of rape were investigated and sentenced during 2013-14).

According to Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the challenges in the fight against GBV include limited reporting on GBV which affects timely response and thus compromising the quality of services delivered to GBV survivors. Limited reporting of GBV cases is linked to cultural beliefs and a mindset around GBV where some forms of violence done to women and girls are normalized. 

If physical GBV cases can go unreported, emotional violence is almost invisible. In addition, GBV cases reported and the data collected is mostly on physical forms of violence. Mental health in general is not integrated in the public health system. Emotional or physiological violence remains an undressed aspect of GBV. 

Eradicating GBV in the Rwandan society will require continued commitment to evidence based policy implementation. This includes budget allocation to enable wider coverage in terms of free-of-charge services to a wider group that aren’t able to afford services; more centers decentralized at the lowest level possible to enable easier access; integration of rehabilitation services for GBV survivors and perpetrators; integration of mental health into the wider public health system; collection and analysis; collection of both quantitative and qualitative data to ensure capturing of magnitude of other forms of violence beyond physical violence; and lastly, continued community based programs to transform mindsets that tolerate GBV against women and girls and eradication of the rape culture.

Chantal Umuhoza is WICBT Project coordinator, PRO-FEMMES and member of RESURJ.