February 13, 2017
Photo credits: UNPO/Witness Image
On Monday 23 January 2017, UNPO submitted a report for the 66th session of the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), during which Rwanda will be under review. The report focuses on the Batwa community, and highlights the way in which Batwa women face double discrimination, being part of a historically marginalised ethnic group. UNPO expresses its deep concern about the fact that policies aimed at the improvement of the lives of women often fail to reach those in the Batwa community.
The Batwa are a distinct ethnic group in Rwanda, numbering an estimated 35.000 people. Until recently, they provided for themselves as hunter-gatherers. Due to displacement and dispossession, the Batwa have become severely impoverished and marginalised, facing discrimination and a lack of access to health services. During a UN periodic review in April 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) pled in favour of the Batwa community and the necessity for the Rwandan government to put in place a special framework in order to better protect them and address their issues. The Rwandan government however, refuses to make policy based on ethnic differences, referencing the recent trauma of the 1994 genocide.
Due to Rwanda’s prohibition on ethnic classification, many of the mechanisms that are put in place to alleviate and counter the suffering of women do not reach Batwa women, who due to their ‘historical marginalised position’ are in dire need of help. UNPO is concerned about the absence of a mention of the Batwa – and the way in which issues of marginalized and underprivileged interact with those of gender equality altogether – both in Rwanda’s own contribution to the coming CEDAW session and in the list of issues and questions resulting from the pre-session that took place in spring 2016. It is therefore that we come forth with a report specifically highlighting the problems of Batwa women.
The report takes as a point of departure a number of provisions in the Convention. It comments on their implementation by the government and on the effect that the lack of implementation has on Batwa women in particular. We conclude that the nationality laws Rwanda adopted following the 1994 have not only negatively affected the Batwa community directly by denying its existence, but also consequently impeded action to combat issues related to gender inequality in the community.
UNPO understands and empathises with Rwanda’s recent trauma with ethnic classification, but nevertheless urges the country to consider the specific situation of Batwa women and take appropriate measures to reach them.
Among the recommendations that UNPO urges the Rwandese government to consider are:
1. to recognise the double discrimination women of the Batwa community face due to lingering ethnic discrimination, as well as to the normal disadvantages faced by women.
2. to address the problems that are specific to the Batwa community and give better opportunities especially to Batwa women, for them to be able to leave the vicious circle of extreme poverty, economic dependency, discrimination, gender-based violence and exclusion.
3. to take special measures to encourage and promote the participation of women of the Batwa community in local and national political and public life through awareness-raising campaigns and trainings for members of the community.
4. to improve healthcare services, particularly in rural areas, as well as to engage in an awareness campaign to spread knowledge and information about PNC services available in medical centres.
5. to rearrange sexual education and contraceptive distribution programmes when targeting the Batwa community, by taking into account, among others, the high school leaving rate linked with the community.
You can access the report here.