The Covid-19 pandemic has left a mark by way of increased cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), among other effects, and the awareness to address the issue should be enforced, activists have emphasised.
The calls were made ahead of the launch of an annual campaign against gender violence dubbed 16 Days of Activism against GBV, which begins on Thursday, November 25, under a national theme; Speak Out! End Gender-Based Violence'.
Rights groups report that the number of GBV cases have escalated, much as due to disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women.
The activists' fears are also reinforced by numbers from the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) which indicate that there has been an increase in GBV cases by 31 per cent since the pandemic has started in early 2020.
As of November 2021, reported GBV cases were 12,804 from 12,342 cases last year, while in 2019, cases were at 9,757.
The upsurge in numbers is attributed to the fact that spouses spent much time together during the pandemic under strict measures put in place such as lockdowns, increasing the incidence of violence in homes.
Come Ndemezo, the director in charge of programmes at Haguruka, an organisation defending rights of women and children, said that 65 per cent of the 3,263 cases they received in 2020 were of GBV nature.
"The most prevalent forms of GBV cases are economic, sexual and psychological violence, however, they are linked. Sometimes one can report of economic violence, whereas she has been suffering other forms (of violence) as well," he said.
He added that more awareness needs to be done to address the gap in society on understanding that GBV is not only sexual violence but also other forms based on practices and cultural stereotypes that limits the rights of women and girls.
Sylvie Nsanga, a social activist said; "If the government has political will, laws and policies, and institutions to follow up on their implementation, but there is no change then we need to change the narrative."
She highlighted that there is a prevalence in digital violence against women which demands more attention, calling for legislative reforms to curtail "digital sexism."
"There must be a relationship between our laws and what we are living in the society," she added.
The 16 Days of Activism which will at the national level be launched in Gatsibo District, will entail different activities including a drive to register illegally married couples across different districts.
'Culture of silence'
Marie-Louise Mukashema, a Senior Legal Aid Attorney with the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) speaking to The New Times, said that the 'culture of silence' plays a big role in protecting a suspect instead of the victim.
However, she added that challenges related to public knowledge and understanding of the law, outdated laws, and difficulties in accessing legal counsel are hindrances that most women from poor backgrounds continue to face in their fight to eliminate GBV.
Juliette Karitanyi, a women rights activist recommended that a 'safe shelter' should be put in place for women and children who seek help anytime.
"Those who work at Isange one-stop centres and everyone manning helplines need consistent training to keep challenging and changing their mindsets since context and experiences of victims are different," she added.