The New Times (Kigali)

13 April 2014

Rwanda: Severe Gender Violence Damaged Women Health During Genocide

Based on what happened during 100 days of Genocide against the Tutsi, there is no doubt that severe gender acts damaged women health as many girls, women were raped and experienced any other forms of sexual violence.

During this period, rape was systematic and was used as a weapon by the perpetrators of massacres. There has been profound evidence that sexual violence was inflicted upon women with complete impunity as an effective weapon by the extremists.

After the Genocide, many women suffered various health setbacks. This sexual violence also resulted in social exclusion as testified by many survivors.

For example, pregnancies got during rape have had deep psychological effects on the victims. We all know that forced pregnancy involves violation of reproductive freedom, sexual autonomy with ever lasting social challenges due to the fact that women find themselves raise off-springs who were born in a brutal manner.

Exclusion and limited social interaction was another challenge in aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as women who became pregnant during this time suffered intense shame in the society that was unwilling to accept unwed mothers. This kind of exclusion forced many unmarried mothers to resort to behaviors like abortion or use of infanticide.

In addition, it is also important to mention that women also suffered various physical and health challenges associated with sexual violence. The physical injuries suffered during that time and their consequences ranged from mere abrasions to instant death, and included infection with sexually transmissible diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Therefore, many survivors had to endure not only a physical risk, but also the psychological damage resulting from a stillbirth.

Ultimately, sexual violence had harsh and lasting consequences for the Rwandan society. The harm experienced by Tutsi women during Genocide has been particularly severe in light of the physical, psychological, and social impact.

With the population of women expected to be higher than of men in Rwanda based on previous census results, the magnitude of the detrimental effects on our society as a whole cannot be underestimated.

Today, government has put up measures to overcome and fight against gender based violence.

We have all seen the inauguration of Isange one stop center from various parts of the country as part of Imbuto foundation initiative in response to all challenges of gender based violence.

Based on information from Imbuto foundation web site, Isange One Centre is a specialised free-of-charge referral center where survivors of gender based violence can find comprehensive services such as medical care, psychosocial support, police, legal support, and collection of legal evidence.

The centre works closely with police stations, sectors, cells and village leaders in surrounding areas. They also collaborate closely with community police, hospitals and health centres in various parts of the country.

Many other gender promotion activities have been funded by the government and its partners in all districts of the country.

Local governments, national agencies, and NGOs have coordinated efforts to educate all community members about the definition and consequences of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

While cultural beliefs about the roles of men and women are not easily changed, the government has adopted plan to stop the cycle of gender based violence through these cultural beliefs.

Rwandan legislators have come out with clear guidance on the administration of penalties in rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence cases.

The wide spread inclusion of a prohibition of gender based violence in international and regional treaties and declarations, its recognition and application by the international tribunals, as well as its prevalence in the national legislation indicates that this prohibition represents a consensus in the international community.

Dr Joseph Kamugisha is a resident oncologist in Jerusalem, Israel

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