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International Women's Day: breaking the silence on gender-based violence

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Girls & Women

This blog comes directly from a UK aid-supported project on the frontlines. The Ni Nyampinga project is a magazine and radio show for teenage girls in Rwanda that focuses on empowering young women. It reports on issues and stories that matter to them and enables women to become journalists themselves. It is now one of Rwanda’s largest media organisations. This report comes from a Ni Nyampinga journalist.

KIGALI, RWANDA A thin woman hunches over in a marshland near the river in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. One by one, she washes a pile of clothing and blankets.

The 28-year-old woman, who requested anonymity for fear of her safety, says she suffered many years of harassment and violence at the hands of her husband. Money problems were usually the trigger.

“Every time I asked him for money to buy foods for our kids, he responded by beating me up and hurling insults at me,” she says.

She says she decided to find employment so she wouldn’t have to rely on her husband for money.

“I maintained a wise silence and decided not to ask him for anything so that our kids sometimes spent a day without food,” she says.

Today, she works as a casual laborer washing clothes. She earns 3,000 francs per day ($5) to buy food and clothing for her children.

Women say they accepted domestic abuse by their husbands as gender-based violence was long considered the norm here. But now, community members are breaking this cultural silence as government-trained mediators resolve domestic disputes as part of a multipronged initiative. Up to 93 percent of victims of physical and psychological abuse in Rwanda are women, according to 2011 statistics from the Isange One Stop Centre, a government centre that provides free services to survivors of domestic abuse.

“I am old, but I will never forget the violence I experienced when I was living with my husband,” Therese Nkirankima, 96, says.

She became the victim of violence for the simple reason that she had given birth to all daughters in a culture that favored sons.

Nkirankima says it used to be that a woman couldn’t report domestic violence. “A woman was treated as an object or a slave,” Nkirankima says. “She had no say in her life and was deprived of her rights.”

But this culture of acceptance and silence toward gender-based violence is changing.

Antoinette Nyirasafari, 41, is a member of one of the anti-gender-based violence committees set up by the government, called Abahuza, which means “mediators” in Kinyarwanda. Nyirasafari says that violence against women was rampant some years ago, but it is declining each year. Most of the cases reported to the committee involve physical violence, with drunkenness as a routine culprit.

In Rwanda, anti-gender-based violence committees are helping women discuss and overcome their problems.

Claudine Iribagiza, a 32-year-old mother from Kicukiro, says that her husband used to physically abuse her and her daughters. “He returned home whilst drunk and attempted to beat up our first-born child, so that I personally intervened to prevent him from doing it,” she says, “and he broke my arm.” Iribagiza says a Abahuza committee member in her area intervened and helped her to reconcile with her husband. “I am on good terms with him now,” she says, “There are no issues with him.”

In 2010, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion established a team to develop a national policy against gender-based violence, says Christiane Umuhire, a gender mainstreaming officer with the ministry. “Gender-based violence and child-protection committees have been put in place from grass roots to the national levels,” Umuhire says. Police throughout the country have also received training on domestic violence prevention and response.

The Girls' Voices blogs series is a platform for young women to voice their opinions about issues girls face in their country. All the young women have been trained by the Global Press Institute. The series is produced by DFID and Girl Hub. Girl Hub is a collaboration between UK aid and the Nike Foundation to help transform the lives of adolescent girls living in poverty by engaging girls themselves to be part of leading that change. You can learn more about how UK aid works with women and girls here.



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  1. Comment by UMURERWA Marie Ange posted on

    I was born in March 1993,
    a year before the genocide against the tutsi in Rwanda.
    Luckily my parents survived so i also survived.
    But a few months after the genocide, my dad started mistreating my mother, and that's when troubles started after my father had another son with another woman.
    We couldnt sleep anymore when my dad almost killed my mother with a panga beause she had realised that he was hiv positive and she had refused to sleep with him.
    I remember all that happened when i was only 6years old. But I thank God because my mom didnt die that time. I wonder if my mother had died that time what would have happened to me and my young brother. our father's death in 2003;
    just a year after he had divorced with my mother.. And the thing is my parents had different clans;
    so whenever we could go to our dad's side we were not well treated; samething as when we could go to our mom's family.
    Up to now they none dont like us. I live only with my mother and my young brother in a house of only one room;
    the violence my mother experienced has traumatised her and she is always desperate and so we are too sometimes.
    I dont know if anytime; anyway God will appear to our family and help me to get a job or a good university scholarship so i can help my family too.
    I have been trying to get a job after the struggles of my mom to help me finish my high school, but still failed to get it. Or when i was promised to get one, i was asked to have sex with them, and couldnt handle that but just leave it.
    Both psychological and physical violence consequences have affected my family.
    I hope and believe one day God will do me a miracle; I wish to be a very well known young entrepreneur and help my fellows to fight and address gender based violence.