The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Rwanda office has concluded a two-week campaign that was aimed at creating awareness on the plight of women and girls who are affected by Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and defilement.
The campaign dubbed “Against my will Campaign” or” Ntibiri mu bushake bwanjye” in Kinyarwanda started from June 30 and ended on July 11, 2020, coinciding with the World Population Day (WPD).
The initiative themed “The health of Women and Girls matters: let us join efforts to end GBV and teenage pregnancy that undermines gender equality in Rwanda” was aimed at transmitting messages against practices that harm women and girls.
Emphasis was put on raising awareness on the importance of ensuring sexual and reproductive health and choices, especially Respecting, Protecting and fulfilling the rights of women and girls.
During the launch of the campaign to defy GBV and child defilement and other society practices that harm women and girls, Mark Bryan Schreiner, the UNFPA Representative to Rwanda said that though the country has made good progress eliminating these vices that undermine equality remain.
“We’ve made progress in slowing the rate of some harmful practices such as gender-based violence and child defilement, but the numbers of girls subjected to them is actually growing because of population growth,”
“GBV and the number of teen pregnancies increase in times of hardship and crisis, even in humanitarian settings,” Schreiner said.
Gender based violence and child defilement cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing women and girls of their right to reach their potential in life.
The campaign, whose launch coincided with the release of the State of the World Population (SWOP 2020) was aimed at highlighting that only equal treatment can bring equal outcomes.
“We have to stop treating girls like commodities to be traded or objects to be controlled and afford girls the same rights and opportunities as boys,”
“One pernicious effect of preferring sons over daughters is a shocking deficit of 140 million females,” the UNFPA Country Representative pointed out.
Communities were urged to stand for equal rights for girls so they can stay in school, prepare for employment, learn about their choices, and shape their own futures.’
Governments were called upon to honour the international agreements they have signed to protect girls’ rights and reproductive choices and end GBV and child defilement.
In order to end harmful practices, men were encouraged to use their privilege to raise the value of girls around the world and demand the equal treatment of girls and boys.
Similarly, economies and legal systems must guarantee every woman equal opportunities to build a decent life based on equality, autonomy, dignity and choice.
UNFPA conducted a series of activities including a webinar to launch the campaign on June 30, which featured young people, as well as a series of radio and TV talkshows.
The current population in Rwanda is approximately 12.3 million (NISR 2019), of which 60% are youth: 40% under the age of 15 and 20% between the ages of 15 and 24 (DHS 2015).
In Rwanda, the total fertility rate (TFR) is 4.2 children, however, the pace of change has not held steady over recent years. The last 5 years show significant decelerations of TFR, use of modern contraception and narrowing of the met/unmet contraceptive needs gap (FP/ASRH SP 2018-2024).
Despite being a demographically important group, young people in Rwanda have limited access to quality sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services, life skills and a number of challenges persist.
Results from the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) show a worrying trend: the proportion of adolescent girls (15-19 years) who have begun childbearing has increased in the last 10 years and is now at 7.3 % (up from 6% in 2010). When the girls reach age 19, this figure rises to 21%.
Youth friendly health services are still limited in scope and coverage compared to needs as only 13.6% health facilities currently offer youth friendly services.
Moreover, only 42% of young girls (15-19 years old) report that they have used a condom during their last sexual intercourse and there are only 25% of youth (15-24 years) who have casual sex report that they consistently use condoms.
Modern Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (mCPR) among sexually active adolescents stands at 33%, which is much lower compared to the total mCPR of 47.5%.
Looking at the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Rwanda, 4 in 10 women and 2 in 10 men aged 15-49 years report having experienced emotional, physical, or sexual violence from their spouse (DHS 2015).
Inequitable gender norms and social norms that condone violence against women put girls at greater risk of unintended pregnancy.
Young girls in Rwanda bear the brunt of sexual violence compared to their male counterparts; the percentage of girls aged 15-19 who ever experienced sexual violence is 14.5% when that of boys of the same age is 2.8%.
The percentage rises sharply among girls aged 20-24 to reach 25.3%, while for boys it is 8.3%. Sexual violence puts women and girls at risk of contracting STIs, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy and warrants targeted interventions.
On the other hand, boys aged 15-19, tend to suffer from physical violence compared to girls (24.4%: 28.2%). As boys grow older (20-24), the percentage increases to 40.7 compared to 28.2 for girls of the same age.
COVID-19 threatens to thwart progress toward ending harmful practices. Pandemic disrupts efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030 globally.
On top of that, the number of women unable to access family planning, facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence are other harmful practices that could skyrocket in the months ahead.
As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures, GBV is increasing exponentially. Many women are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers; at the same time services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible.
Evidence from prior outbreaks shows that this crisis could exact a massive toll on women and girls. Women are disproportionately represented in the health and social services sectors, increasing their risk of exposure to the disease.
Stress, limited mobility and livelihood disruptions also increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence and exploitation. And if health systems redirect resources away from SRH services, women’s access to family planning, antenatal care and other critical services could suffer.
Furthermore, with the disruption of schools, routine health services and community-level centres, new ways of providing information and support to adolescents and young people for SRHR urgently need to be established.
The campaign was aimed at ensuring that even amid COVID-19 outbreak and recovery phases, women and girls are protected and accorded the right services.
In order to safeguard women and girls’ rights, the following actions were recommended;
Respect: We must foster respect for women and girls by changing entrenched cultural attitudes and practices that dehumanize and commoditize them. This means disrupting root causes of inequality and respecting girls’ autonomy.
Protect: We must protect women and girls by enacting and enforcing laws against practices that harm girls and women and foster inequalities, but also by changing attitudes and norms. Parents need to understand the impact of harm and take a stand against it.