From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.
In Rwanda, in 2012 alone, 3,472 women and girls were raped, defiled, beaten or killed, according to a statement by the Commissioner of Police John Bosco Kabera to The New Times, July 9, 2012. More than half of newly married women reported suffering physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Nearly 80 percent of those women claim the violence occurred during the last 12 months (Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey, 2010).
Before the establishment of One Stop Centers, victims had to first go to the police station to give testimonies of their ordeal, and then travel back to the hospital to receive treatment, and only then received the official report to take back to the police station. No legal counsel was available onsite. The process could take days to complete, with victims shuffled from one service to another, re-living their traumatic experience and sharing the same details with different groups. Many would give up and go home. With the new One Stop Centers, all services are located on the same site. The whole process takes approximately four hours, during which time the victim remains at the Center while a dedicated staff of doctors, nurses, police officers, and social workers handle her case.
USAID’s Rwanda Family Health Project is supporting the Ministry of Health in fighting gender-based violence through the establishment of two One Stop Centers in Nyamata and Nemba Hospitals. One Stop Centers offer critical integrated services to victims, including immediate counseling, treatment, lab tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and a physical examination by a doctor. Once exams are completed and evidence recorded, an onsite police officer submits the medical report to the court for legal proceedings.
Olive Mukase, a psychiatric nurse that is trained in dealing with victims of gender-based violence reflects, “It is a cultural and economic matter. In Rwanda, women believe that they need to remain silent so as not to bring attention or trouble to the household. The husband is the chief and a woman must respect what he says and does. Sometimes, she is scared that if she reports him to the police he could be sent to prison and she will not be able to provide for her family.” Ms. Mukase counsels victims and encourages them to help other women in their community find the courage to speak up and get help. Unfortunately, few women that are victims of gender-based violence will seek help, believing that the perpetrator will eventually stop. Only when the violence becomes unbearable do some women seek help.
Marthe Nyirarutimana, a Community Health Worker in a rural village outside of Nyamata, has recently been trained by the Program to raise awareness of gender-based violence in her community and how to refer victims to support services. She shared that before receiving training, she did not think about how, as a community health worker, she would be involved in this issue. She now plays an active role in identifying cases, referring, and accompanying victims to health centers for care and treatment.
Marthe continues to work closely with local authorities to raise awareness of gender-based violence in her community. She describes how at first the community was resistant. After her outreach, members began to discuss gender-based violence-what it is, why it occurs and how it should be handled. Most importantly, the community now knows that the victims should and can be taken to the One Stop Center for help.
One message that was echoed by these brave front-line workers is the need to break the silence around gender-based violence. Olive and Marthe are just two of the people committed to changing gender perceptions and providing services to the victims of gender-based violence in Rwanda. During these 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, support Olive and Marthe and others by becoming a part of the movement that gives voice to victims around the world.