The Isange one stop centre : transforming the lives of survivors of violence in Rwanda
By Alexandra Williams
May 2010, Rwanda
Mary is 32 years old with 4 children. She was married for 17 years to a man who emotionally and physically abused her. She first came to the Isange One Stop Centre in October 2009, when her husband broke her arm. She was so traumatized she could not speak. But thanks to the support she received, she is almost back to being a woman she can be proud of.
Set up in July 2009 by UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNFPA and other partners, the Isange One Stop Centre – which means feel welcome in Kinyarwanda - provides free services for survivors of child domestic abuse and gender-based violence (GBV). The centre operates a free phone hotline for help, protection from further violence, investigation of crimes, medical and psychosocial care and support and collection of forensic evidence.
"My unemployed husband used to torture me – and after I left, sought me out to tell me he was going to kill me" recalls Mary. "He did the same to my children. Mental abuse was frequent in our marriage; he told me I was useless and no longer capable of anything let alone holding down a job. I am distressed that my twelve year old son may have picked up ugly traits from my husband and he will abuse his wife one day."
Dr Oreste Tuganeyezu is one of the doctors at Isange who helped treat Mary. "I have worked with many sad cases" he says, "but, I find it difficult to sleep at night when I think about a two year girl who was raped. The family brought the child to our centre where I found thechild’s insides destroyed (medically she was suffering a fistula - where the urinary tract had been squashed) as well as infection". “She was since operated on and lives back in the community with her parents - but the offender remains known to the family and who knows how the future for this little girl will turn out," he adds.
According to one survey, one-third of all women in Rwanda report experiencing violence since the age of fifteen. While the country is putting in place a system to protect children and women from all forms of violence, including recently passing a GBV law, setting up gender desks at police stations round the country and looking into replicating the one stop centre, financial and skilled human resources challenges remain. "The UN is very committed to supporting the Government of Rwanda to set up mechanisms to both prevent and address violence," explains Francesca Morandini, Chief of Child Protection with UNICEF Rwanda. "Isange has been very well received and its case load is increasing by the day, which means more and more women are hearing about it and feel comfortable to come forward." she adds.
Prior to the Isange One Stop Centre there was nowhere for woman to go for help.
With support from Isange, Mary is seeking a divorce and seeing a counsellor to bring back her self confidence so she can start living again and providing for her children. "It is not always possible for us to stop the origin of the abuse" explains Dr Oreste, "but in Mary’s case, our staff tracked down her husband. He refused to attend counselling – although the son is now getting treatment. For many women and children who have suffered – even obtaining a small bus fare to come to the Isange Centre – is an enormous challenge. But if women like Mary feel welcome, it means we are doing something good."