Rwanda: Preventive Approach Critical to End Sexual Violence – Officials

Officials and stakeholders in the fight against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) noted that it requires a both preventive and response measures.

This was noted, on January 26, during a national level advocacy meeting on a project dubbed “Empowering Young People to Prevent and Fight Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Rwanda” organized by ActionAid Rwanda in collaboration withFaith Victory Association with finincial support from the European Union.

The project kicked off in 2022 with establishment of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) clubs for in and out of schoolsyoung people and youth located in Karongi and Gasabo District where students were educated on sexual health and how to prevent and fight sexual-based violence, as well as countering misinformation around the matter.

From the clubs, youth networks were created to identify several issues that young people face and advocate for change while suggesting potential solutions that can be adopted by stakeholders in the fight against SGBV.

The two-year project had objectives of increasing sexual and reproductive health knowledge of young adolescents in schools and out of school, encouraging support of parents/guardians, teachers and community leaders for reproductive and sexual health of young adolescents, and increasing access to, utilization and referral of quality youth-friendly reproductive health services for young adolescents.

While there have been many efforts to address the complexity of SGBV, cases of teenage pregnancies persistently increased over the years with the latest data from the Gender Ministry indicating that it increased by 23 per cent from 19,701 in 2020 to 23,000 in 2021.

According to the Project Coordinator, Moise Nkurunziza, after several consultations with different target groups such as youth networks, peer educators, and civil society organization, Sixchallenges faced by young people and youth were highlighted, needing tailored solutions.

These include poor parents/teacher-child communication about sexual and reproductive health, long time waiting and irregularities in SRH service delivery, limited Isange One Stop Centers that impede support for victims, SGBV in public transport, and teen pregnancy.

“We need a holistic approach and galvanize efforts to address the root causes if we are to effectively fight this issue. The role of parents and educators is critical; however, they first need to be informed about sexual and reproductive health as well,” Nkurunziza said.

Jean Paul Habun Nsabimana, Isange One Stop Center Coordinator, RIB, said while many tend to focus on response to SGBV in the aftermath, efforts should be geared towards prevention, emphasizing special attention to the high number of adolescents who fall victim to abuse.

He added that there should be collaboration between teachers and parents to educate and carefully follow up on children to avoid any gap where adolescents might indulge in uninformed sexual activities, hence, the abuse. On the issue of limitted access to Isange on stop centers services, Habun said that suvivors would still receive an emergency medical and non medical support from nearby health centers at zero cost and be transported to Isange one stop centers for further treatment.

However, Claudine Ayinkujije, Director of Kirambo Health Center, Karongi District, said that victims of SGBV are still challenged to access healthcare services because the assigned focal point service provider gets caught up in other duties at health centers, leaving the victims unattended.

She added that it requires deliberate efforts to respond to this issue and increase the number of skilled medical professionals at health center level.

GBV in public transport

Another emerging case of GBV that has been identified based on harassment complaints filed by female passengers in public transport. Nkurunziza said that this is an issue worth looking into and addressing, despite the evidences being hard to collect, contrary to other forms of GBV.

Reintegration of victims

Jean Baptiste Hitimana, Anti-GBV Specialist in the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, noted that parents and guardians need to actively participate in ‘Umugoroba w’Umuryango’ (loosely to mean ‘a family evening’) forum, a community-based initiative that seeks to promote harmonious and stable families.

When it comes to socioeconomic reintegration of teen mothers, he said that the ministry has adopted a new strategy whereby any support from stakeholders in this regard will be channeled through Isange One Stop Centers to facilitate follow-up and evaluation after provision of psychosocial counselling, justice, and economic support, to determine their readiness of reintegration.

Ines Mwangavu, the Executive Director of ActionAid Rwanda, emphasized that the organization is committed to ending SGBV in Rwandan society by collaborating with the government to formulate and implement effective measures.

“This project contributed to raising awareness of sexual reproductive health among young people and changing of mindset towards the subject for parents, teachers and religious and local leaders. Now, the youth have established regular platforms where they discuss their challenges and potential solutions to fight against gender-based violence and are empowered to take their voices to higher level/ decision makers for their attention .”

ActionAid Rwanda is part of a global justice federation working to achieve social justice, gender equality and poverty eradication. It has operations in 14 districts across the country.

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