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.
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.