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In Rwanda, centre provides a refuge for victims of domestic violence

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
Dr Oreste Tuganeyezu outside the Isange One Stop Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.

By Alexandra Williams

KIGALI, Rwanda, 15 February 2011 - For 17 years Mary was married to a man who emotionally and physically abused her. She first came to the Isange One Stop Centre in October of 2009, after having been recently beaten by her husband and left with a badly broken arm. At the time, she was so traumatized she could not speak, but now at 32, buouyed by the love of her four children and essential support from the centre, she is doing decidedly better.

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 telephone hotline for help, protection from further violence, investigation of crimes, medical and psycho-social care as well as support and collection of forensic evidence.

“My unemployed husband used to torture me – and after I left, he 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.”

Victims of sexual abuse

Dr. Oreste Tuganeyezu is one of the doctors at Isange who helped treat Mary.

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
A local woman outside the Isange One Stop Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.

“I have worked with many sad cases,” he says. ” I find it difficult to sleep at night when I think about a two-year-old girl who was raped. The family brought the child to our centre recently. I found the child’s insides destroyed, medically she was suffering a fistula - where the urinary tract had been squashed, as well as infection.”

According to one survey, one-third of all women in Rwanda report experiencing violence since the age of fifteen.

Challenges remain

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 around the country and looking to replicate the One-Stop Centre remains a challenge.

“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.”

© UNICEF Rwanda/2010/Williams
People waiting outside the Isange One Stop Centre in Kigali, Rwanda.

“Thanks to the Isange One Stop Centre, women like me have doctors and psychologists who can sit for a long time to talk women about their abuse – physical and mental,” recounts Mary. “I thank God for this every day. The centre has provided me with hope – and a place to start recovering - without it I would have nothing…not even a life worth living.”

Restoring self-confidence

With support from Isange, Mary is seeking a divorce and seeing a counsellor to restore her self-confidence so that 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.”



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