Despite the existence of a political, legal and institutional framework to fight GBV, it remains a common occurrence in Ngoma District, Eastern Province. This was confirmed in a December 2009 baseline study carried out in the framework of an Ngoma District – ARAMA joint project supported by European Union.
104 women GBV victims spontaneously and on short notice responded to a call made on Radio Izuba to meet interviewers to provide information about GBV. Among them five were randomly selected from each of the 14 sectors comprising the Ngoma District, and the information collected from these 70 representatives was processed to allow a statistical description of GBV victims’ characteristics. The study further used focus group discussions involving women, men, adults, the youth, and participants from various social and professional backgrounds in the district.
The results indicated that the most prevalent GBV is domestic as, on one hand, 80% of the victims included both legally married women and women living in illegitimate free unions, and on the other hand, 78.6% of GBV perpetrators were reported to be spouses.
GBV takes place in several forms, including :
psychological in the form of verbal abuse (80%),
economic in the form of denied access to household’s resources (78.6%),
physical in the form of assault and battery (62.9%),
and sexual in the form of conjugal rape (18.6%).
Several GBV aggravating factors were reported, including :
lack of legal protection in illegitimate cohabitation,
family neglect, etc.
However, across the focus groups and opinion leaders the root causes of GBV were reported to be primarily linked with the unequal power relations between men and women where the latter are mercilessly economically dependent on men, have limited access to cash, are denied property rights and access to resources in the context of very strong cultural stereotypes which are disadvantageous and prejudicial to women.
In fact, the low level of education of women was found to be an important factor of GBV vulnerability as 88.6% of the victims did not pursue their education beyond primary school.
With limited knowledge and professional skills, the poor and uneducated women normally work in different non valued activities related to household rearing and food fetching. Women’s vulnerability is exasperated by the cultural beliefs, values and expectations that give men proprietary rights over women, including cash.
Consequences of Gender based violence
In general, the victims endure enormous consequences of GBV. The baseline study indicated that 85.7% suffer from psychological trauma, 77.1% worsening poverty level, and 50% physical injuries.
Care and support to GBV survivors
However, the level of care provided to GBV victims remains pathetically weak. Only 7.1% of the victims sought assistance and care, while 75.8 % did not. And the types of support sought was basically medical (5.7%), juridical (2.9%), financial (1.4%). None reported to have sought any psychological support and care despite the prevalence of the victims’ psychological suffering.
Why do GBV survivors do not demand for psychological support ?
Several reasons explain the low demand for psychological support, including :
- (1) fear of stigmatization ;
- (2) unawareness of what a psychological disorder is and encompasses ;
- (3) there are in Ngoma District only two establishments, the Kibungo Hospital and ARAMA, with adequately trained staff in basic psychological trauma counseling skills, while the other institutions the victims usually resort to, including the Police, the Prosecutor’s Office, the local authorities, the local security services, the National Women Council, Family Network, Religious Leaders, do not have such expertise ;
- (4) absence of a friendly facility which can treat GBV victims in a confidential and intimate setting ;
- (5) lack of a official protocol and guidelines on how psychological support is administered ;
- (6) long distance to travel (about 54 kms) to reach the nearest one stop centre, established in Kayonza District by the women rights promoting association Haguruka to accommodate GBV victims.
- The demand for medical support (5.7%) is very low principally because of the following :
- (1) fear of stigmatization ;
- (2) absence of a friendly facility which can treat GBV victims in a confidential and intimate setting ; fear of retaliation ; and
- (3) the victims’ lack of enough resources and means to pay for medical care.
- The reasons for the low legal support include :
- (1) the victims ignore and cannot further claim their rights despite their dissatisfaction and disappointment ;
- (2) fear of stigmatization and retaliation from the perpetrators’ family ;
- (3) lack of financial resources to pay for legal services ;
- (4) the victims’ ignorance of legal procedures ; and
- (5) low expectations about satisfying outcome (only 4.3% of the sampled GBV
victims indicated that they had been satisfied with the outcome of reporting their cases to different institutions).
The demand for financial care and support was weak following lack of financial assistance programs.
What remains important to notice is that 104 participants is a very low figure compared to the actual number of GBV occurrences. Indeed, focus group discussions and opinion leaders widely indicated that GBV remains to a large extent a taboo and considered like a household private matter not be taken to the public. The cultural legacy subjugates women to men’s domination whereby the woman is expected to be submissive and show resignation after GBV, in conformity with the saying “Niko zubakwa” or “Umugore ni ubika ibanga ry’urugo”, translating by “that is how (through the woman’s resignation) they (husband and wife) get along”, or “the correct wife is one who keeps the family’s private matters secret”.
GBV cases are rarely reported
It was pointed out that, GBV reporting is low because of the following reasons :
- (1) the victims’ ignorance of GBV laws ;
- (2) the victims’ unawareness of what GBV encompasses and entails as a crime, combined with the cultural gender bias against women whereby GBV is widely considered as a serious crime and reported principally in the case of child defilement, whereas several other forms of GBV, including verbal abuse, family neglect, adult rape, rape by spouse, polygamy, adultery, etc., are not considered as such ;
- (3) ignorance of where to have recourse.
In brief, the baseline study pointed out several factors of GBV, including poor women’s economic and financial destitution and ignorance of gender laws, and the widespread public unawareness of GBV as a human rights violation.
Are friendly services available for GBV survivors ?
It also disclosed the weak care and support GBV victims can at present access to in Ngoma District.
Creating economic opportunities for the poor and uneducated women whereby they can own, control, manage money and have economic independence, while improving their households’ food security, remains at the heart of the strategies to pull them out of GBV vulnerability. Furthermore, as a matter of urgency, immediate responses are needed to assist the victims. On one side, psychological and medical services are essential to treat the immediately endured physical injuries and psychological trauma, and deal with the long term physical and mental health consequences of GBV.
On the other side, legal services reveal crucial to educate the victims and women in general about their rights and what they ought to do to claim them, while cautioning perpetrators and potential perpetrators against GBV as a human rights violation reproved by the country legal code. In the short and long term, the community as a whole and GBV concerned institutions in particular must be made aware of GBV as a human rights violation to ensure a consistent application of laws, and instigate firmer community involvement on prevention and response mechanisms.