Rwanda holds the world record for the percentage of females in parliament (64%). Despite this impressive report record on female political empowerment, gender-based Violence (GBV) among women and girls remains challenge. At least two in five women (41.2%) experienced physical violence by the age of 15, while more than one in five women (22%) have experienced sexual violence. Furthermore, estimates released by Rwanda's Gender Desk in 2011 showed that up to 93% of the victims of physical and psychological abuse were women.
“Sometimes he would beat me and I don’t even know why, I can’t think of a reason” says Godeleine, a citizen from Muhanga districts. Godeleine Mukarurerwa is a Rwandan woman who suffered in silence from Gender-Based Violence. Some days, she might wonder how she would find the energy and will to do her daily work. Her husband, Léonce Ndagijimana, said he considered himself as "the best husband" and thought the way he treated Godeleine is how women should be treated. “We have always been living under a patriarchal mentality where the man of the family has the right to judge and decide for everything and everybody” Léonce says.
Over the years, the conflicts between the couple grew bigger and bigger, sometimes degenerating in domestic violence, until 2013, when the couple's life changed dramatically. It came after Léonce agreed to attend a Gender Awareness Raising Programme in his community, initiated by the Rwanda National Police. The program taught the men about gender-based violence, and Léonce finally realized that he had been violent with his wife which is illegal.
The One UN Rwanda support, through the joint programme Promoting Access to Justice and Human Rights and Peace Consolidation, the Rwanda national Police to implement systemic approaches to fight GBV and promote gender throughout the country.
To help couples with GBV issues, a system was established comprising of a club, a mentorship program and a 3 months training module. The couples were enrolled into clubs to attend regular meetings. The club served as a mechanism for organization and continuous engagement to ensure that the Rwanda National Police could disseminate information to all the couples through the club and that the enrolled couples participated. In total 270 couples including Godeleine and Léonce, were identified.
Today, a number of couples who benefited from GBV programme through the Access to Justice programme supported by One UN Rwanda, reflect on its impact of on their lives and the assistance they received to deal with it. Godeleine says she remembers all too well how she suffered for a long time:
“I have been married for the last 17 years. But the period has been rough for me. My husband could easily spend his day in bars and whenever he came home, he would insult me, sell our properties without my consent and he would say that I am outdated and not interesting and many times we spent our nights yelling and fighting”.
“The Rwanda National Police works normally to end domestic and gender based violence but also promotes gender empowerment”, said Superintendent of Police Pelagie Dusabe, Head of the Gender Promotion Department of the Rwanda National Police. She mentioned that women are sensitized to take part in decision making processes of their family, especially decisions related to families finances.
The relationship between Godeleine and Léonce has now completely changed. Domestic violence is now a story of the past in their family. “Today, my husband has completely changed thanks to the mentorship programmes we received from the police in 2013. When we started the programme, we would go back home and he would say it’s as if what the police was teaching us was designed for him. From there on, there is no more violence at home. We communicate now something we had never done before and we share everything. My neighbours who use to hear us fight all the time wonder what I have done to him!” laughed Godeleine.
The access to justice programme contributes to the strengthening of the capacity of the Justice Sector institutions to improve the delivery of justice with special emphasis to the most vulnerable groups including women and children. The programme also strengthens national capacities to promote and mainstream Human Rights. It further contributes to the promotion of unity and reconciliation, peace and security.