Rwandan Women Find Strength in Each Other
On a recent visit to Rwanda, my ICRW colleague Amy Gregowski and I had the opportunity to meet members of the Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) and learn about their effort to support survivors of the 1994 genocide. We're working with the RWN as part of a partnership with the Gender-Based Violence Prevention Network, which is comprised of more than 200 organizations committed to preventing violence in the Horn, East and Southern Africa.
The RWN members greeted us with dance and joyful singing when we arrived at "Village of Hope," a support center for women genocide survivors in Kigali. But the celebratory atmosphere soon grew somber. Most of the members are widows who became HIV-positive as a result of mass rape. "Everyone here lost relatives and friends in the genocide," Mukamurangwa Lourance, a community caregiver and paralegal told us. "We dance, not because we are happy, but because it helps us to move on ... We dance because we are together and want to show others that together we can reconstruct our country."
This reconstruction is taking place slowly, as are efforts to improve the lives of Rwandan women through a combination of community activities and progressive laws. For instance, legislation passed in 2009 made all forms of violence illegal, including sexual harassment, trafficking, domestic violence, marital rape and denying a spouse's right to property or employment. Then there are the on-the-ground, community endeavors. This includes ICRW's work to train RWN members how to conduct research on issues that will strengthen their programs and advocacy.
Right now, RWN is carrying out a study to understand how violence against women and girls is being addressed in the community of Bugesera, a district in Eastern Rwanda that was deeply affected by the genocide. They will share the results with national leaders and use the findings to improve care for survivors of domestic violence. Network members also have trained community paralegals to help women learn about Rwanda's new laws and how to protect their rights. It seems to be making a difference:
"After the genocide, our husbands' families took our properties and tried to chase us away with our children," one woman told us. "After we learned about the laws we helped women get their land back. We've opened our eyes."
Another woman shared how, after years of beatings by her husband, she was able to gain police protection. "(My husband) stayed in prison for two weeks. It frightened him, and now that he's out, he is better behaved. After his release, (other RWN members) told him, 'Don't think that you can beat her and nothing will happen.'"
"This," she said, "helped me a lot."