It happened during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: brutal and widespread sexual violence. The horrors that occurred left a devastating legacy that is still felt throughout the country. More than a decade later, the Rwanda Defense Forces, the RDF, labeled this kind of violence a major threat to national security. It launched a campaign to help prevent sexual violence against women with assistance from the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM. General James Kabarebe of the RDF.
GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE
What I expect from the campaign is total eradication of gender-based violence, and violence against women. It needs the concerted effort of almost everybody, every sector, every institution, everywhere. You have to look for gaps.
The police and the military work together to brief nearby communities about how to detect incidents of sexual assault. Captain Fred Ugamba, Rwandan Defense Forces.
CAPTAIN FRED UGAMBA
You can teach the people, the population around all deployments. You can assist them to tell them how to witness and identify, and also encourage them to report such cases whenever they are committed.
At the National Police, a Gender Desk is in place to respond to emergency calls from victims, counsel families to resolve feuds, and collect evidence for prosecution. It even helps rape victims to access free medical treatment. This woman was brutalized by her brother. She finally turned to Belline, a police officer for help.
Claudine came in and reported that she was beaten by her brother. She was then chased out of the house, so she slept outside, and that is why she came to the police.
Women like Claudine now feel confident about coming forward to report violence because of the support they're receiving from female police officers like Belline. With a heavy caseload, Belline relies on her motorcycle to come to the rescue of battered women as quickly as possible. UNIFEM's Jacqueline Odera.
I think there are a number of factors that make for the success of this program in Rwanda. Firstly, we have political will at the highest level. We also have an environment which is very responsive to gender equality. Finally, we have a very strong women's movement here in Rwanda.
To change attitudes and prevent cases of abuse, RDF runs a training program, such as this one, for its officers. In addition, it trains Rwandan peacekeepers to protect women in conflict situations during assignments in other countries. Actions such as providing firewood patrols and helping build fuel- efficient stoves for women have now been implemented. It reduces frequent trips by women to the forest, minimizing opportunities for sexual attacks against them.
To see people saying "we can now work without being afraid, because we know that we can call the police if someone dares to attack us," that for me is changing lives."
This report was prepared by Katherine Smerdon for the United Nations.