The Rwandan authorities are trying to tackle gender-based violence by addressing the role of security personnel in ending the scourge.
"Violence of any sort is an affront to society, an abomination that is simply unacceptable," Rwandan Prime Minister Bernard Makuza said. "Security forces in Africa must recognize gender-based violence as a crime."
The prime minister, who was speaking at a recent high-level conference in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on the role of security bodies in ending violence against women and girls, called for community involvement in efforts to root out the vice.
Few countries have set up concrete measures to end the problem, but where such efforts exist, a positive trend has emerged. According to the Rwanda police, there has been a 22 percent drop in the number of child molestations, from 2,000 cases in 2006. Reported rape cases dropped 26 percent over the same period to 2009.
Many of the cases are handled at Isange one-stop centre at Kacyiru police hospital. The centre was inaugurated in 2005 to support victims of gender-based violence. At present, it supports about 1,500 women with psycho-social and medical assistance.
But these are only reported cases. According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), a 2005 study in 10 countries found that 55 to 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners never contacted the police, NGOs or shelters for help. Stigma and fear prevent women from seeking assistance and redress, the study noted.
"Our journey to a gender-violence-free world has been and will be a tough one," Emmanuel Gasana, the Rwandan police chief said. "But our public awareness campaign is getting through."
Active training is going on across the Rwandan police force to end violence against women and girls, and gender desks have been set up. Personnel who have been deployed in peacekeeping missions such as Darfur are encouraged to pass on the knowledge. The other armed forces are also being trained.
The most common form of violence experienced by women is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner. According to the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria.
In situations of armed conflict, violence against women tends to be much worse. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were reportedly raped, according to Rwandan government and UN data.
Experts say violence against women is not confined to a specific culture, region or country, or to particular groups of women within a society. Rather, its roots lie in historically unequal power relations between men and women, and persistent discrimination against women.
And it takes many forms, ranging from rape to physical beatings, dowry murder, female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual harassment. In some situations, women who seek refuge in “secure” places like police stations have ended up experiencing more violence.
The Kigali seminar, which was attended by Uganda, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda, called for intensified training of police personnel on gender-based across the continent, backed up by relevant legislation. More women, it said, should be recruited and promoted to security bodies.