Addressing Gender and Violence in Rwanda

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SEATTLE — Rwanda has a long-standing history of a correlation between gender and violence. Gender-based violence against women is one of the most common human rights violations in the world today, and Rwanda is no exception.

About 40 percent of women in Rwanda have experienced gender-based violence. Rwanda also has a 34 percent rate of lifetime physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, and a 21 percent rate of physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence in the last 12 months. The country ranks 84th on the Gender Inequality Index.

Sexual violence is particularly dangerous, as it can lead to complications such as fistula. A fistula is an abnormal opening in the birth canal that results in the constant, uncontrollable leakage of urine and feces. It is a relatively rare condition, but it can lead to serious health problems. Sexual violence can also lead to unintended pregnancies, HIV and even death.

Some experts, like Peace Ruzage, CEO of Aspire Rwanda, argue that the gender and violence correlation in the country stems from “notions and cultural beliefs” of masculinity that have been reinforced throughout history. Rwanda has traditionally been a patriarchal society where gender roles ensured that women were destined to be subordinate to men in every aspect.

One couple, Samuel Munyaneza and Florence Uzamunkunda, who previously had an abusive relationship, went through training by switching daily chores. Munyaneza did the traditionally female duties such as sweeping the courtyard and cooking, while Uzamunkunda did the traditionally male chores such as cutting firewood and milking the cows. The couple was met with mockery from their neighbors, proving the gender roles and rooted cultural beliefs about men and women in Rwanda.

In addition to tackling the established cultural beliefs of the roles men and women have in society, violence against women in Rwanda is being fought with healthcare and counseling. USAID has trained 640 Rwandan healthcare providers on basic care for women who have been victims of gender-based violence. USAID has reached roughly 10,000 gender-based violence survivors with care since 2015 and has partnered with the Ministry of Health to make improvements to reproductive, maternal and newborn delivery.

Gender-based violence officers are trained to be able to provide compassionate counseling and safety planning. These officers also do home visits, along with providing counseling and support to family members of victims of gender-based violence.

While still a very serious issue in Rwanda, gender-based violence may be on the decline in the country. For future generations in Rwanda, traditions and cultural beliefs will hopefully change to emphasize the equality of women and end the correlation between gender and violence.

– Blake Chambers

Photo: Flickr

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