RWANDA: Combating Violence Against Women With Drama

Monday, February 20, 2012
All Africa
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

According to the Global Fund, war and militarism have a profound impact on women inside and outside of conflict situations. Sexual violence, intimidation and wife battery are just a few of the problems that women all over the world have to live with almost on a daily basis.

Conflict resolution and peace building experts agree that the family is a key element in the process of peace building because it is the nucleus of the state responsible for shaping citizens.

"The powerful influence of parents will dictate how the child is shaped because children are born into families and this is where the first lessons of life begin. The environment within the home will impact the character formation of the child as their values and morals are learnt at a very early stage of life," says Fortuna Anthony, author of a paper "The role of family in building peace."

Cody Scott, a former notorious criminal leader in the Caribbean, attests to this assertion, having famously confessed that "if he had had a proper family he would never have turned out to be the violent man that he grew up to become."

As for Rwanda, the situation is not different. The country's past conflicts were hatched and masterminded in families by family members against members of other families based on the tribal division. In the Genocide, the family as an institution was hugely abused.

Many stakeholders in the government and civil society have since gone to work employing all known peace building methods to reconcile former enemies and build a new harmonious society based on new values and morals.

One such NGO is the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), an organization whose main objective is empowering the youth in cultivating peace and reconciliation in their communities through their Youth for Change program (Y4C).

And whereas the country is peaceful after 17 years, there are numerous ways in which violent conflicts are rife in communities, one of the main ones being domestic violence fueled by land and other property disputes mostly by men against women.

Squandering money

In this context, IREX works with youth groups such as Ndangamuco Imanzi Cooperative in Bugesera district in addressing violent trends that might be a threat to peace but also to build reconciliation among community members.

Imanzi cooperative is a group composed of eleven male and twelve female youth who in 2008 started to perform plays drawn from real life experience depicting, through dance and drama, domestic violence mostly against women in homes.

The group performs the plays at trading centres and social events, as was the case on a recent Friday at Mwogo Market place in Bugesera.

In the play, the husband sells the family's piece of land on which they also have a banana plantation, their only source of livelihood, without the wife's knowledge. He then squanders the money on booze and young girls only to return home with empty pockets and an empty stomach, angrily demanding food from his wife.

"There's no food because you did not leave any money, where is the money you got for our land?" she asked, only to be shouted at and beaten. The violence attracts a neighbor, the one who bought the couple's land, and the wife quickly finds out the plot was sold for peanuts. In the end, hunger sobers up the husband who for the first time in the play listens to his wife, and then kneels down in shame to ask for pardon.

There is a happy ending, though, when the neighbor decides to give back the land and advises the husband to always involve his family when making decisions that affect them, and to respect his wife.

During the play, the crowd is clearly engaged with women spectators taunting the man vociferously while the men look on in discomfiture caused by one of their own.

"That play says exactly what is going on in our homes," says one woman. "Our husbands disregard us yet we are the pillars of our families and when we raise our voices we get beaten."

Samuel Bukuru, the group's president, says their plays are inspired by what they observe in their community. According to Eugene Gatari of IREX Rwanda, Ndangamuco Imanzi cooperative is one of 10 groups that are receiving a small grant of US$ 2,400 each from the organization to facilitate them in peace building activities in five sectors of Bugesera District through dance and drama.

"We support them because their activities in helping resolve domestic violence is within IREX's/Y4C objective of empowering the youth in cultivating peace and reconciliation in communities," Gatari says.