Nov 25, 2013

UNPO Observes International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women


On 25 November 2013, UNPO observed the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day served as an occasion to raise awareness of violence against women, a harsh reality facing many of UNPO’s members. Particular attention was paid to UNPO’s Batwa member in Rwanda, where UNPO, with the support of the Nando Peretti Foundation, is undertaking a project aimed at addressing gender based violence, as well as promoting economic empowerment of Batwa women.

Violence against women takes many forms – physical, psychological, economic and sexual – and not only does it affect the health of the concerned women, it also diminishes their ability to participate in public life. As a consequence, violence against women impoverishes those affected, their families, communities and nations. Alarmingly, according to UN figures, up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime.

Many women face multiple forms of discrimination and thus an increased risk of violence. One striking example of this is UNPO’s Batwa member, an indigenous people in Rwanda, officially categorised as ‘historically marginalised’. The lack of data and specific circumstances have contributed to impeding the economic and social development of the Batwa, making them one of the poorest population groups in Rwanda. Women, as a particularly vulnerable subset, have suffered the most as a result of this on-going discrimination and lack of development. The conjunction of a patriarchal society, extreme poverty and widespread discrimination has resulted in them being the most targeted victims of gender based violence.

During a recent visit to a Batwa community in the district of Nyabihu, in the Western Province of Rwanda, UNPO encountered that with no means of sustenance, and no access to education, this community is forced to live in substandard conditions. As a consequence, frustrated by their living conditions, several of the men show a tendency towards alcoholism, which has turned out to be one of the most recurrent causes behind gender based violence in Batwa communities.

Whereas the conditions in Nyabihu appeared particularly gloomy, with little progress since UNPO’s previous visit to Rwanda in 1994, another visit to a community in the Muhanga district, in the Southern Region of Rwanda, left a more positive impression. Here, UNPO was able to fully confirm that the women, having been empowered through the work of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Rwanda, displayed a very secure demeanour and expressed themselves with determination and confidence. Several of the women were also financially independent form their husbands, having been able to structure their own means of income.

The Batwa in Rwanda, alongside the Haratin in Mauritania, where women and children are those worst affected by the cruel practice of modern-day slavery, and many more, continue to experience violence in their daily life. Nonetheless, UNPO’s visit to the Batwa community in the Muhanga district reaffirms the important message that violence against women is not inevitable, and that prevention is possible and essential. With this in mind, UNPO will continue to draw attention to the need for action to eliminate violence against women, through its various activities and projects.