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Rwanda: How addressing the roots of violence at home can help families facing food shortages now

Couples in Rwanda join training as part of efforts to prevent gender-based violence. All photos by Peter Caton/CARE.

Couples in Rwanda join training as part of efforts to prevent gender-based violence. All photos by Peter Caton/CARE.

Alphonsine wasn’t allowed to work. She had no rights to the land around her home and no say in what the family spent money on.

Similar to most men in their community in northwestern Rwanda, Alphonsine’s husband Augustin thought a woman’s place was in the home and Alphonsine’s opinion wasn’t important when it came to making decisions about their family.

Even though Augustin didn’t see it this way, keeping Alphonsine in this disempowered, vulnerable “place” made her one of the many women vulnerable to violence in Rwanda. According a recent government study, 1 in 3 married women in Rwanda reported experiencing physical violence from their partners, and 46% of married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence.

“I was never allowed to engage in any income generating activities,” recounts Alphonsine. “We used to have conflicts related to property.”

“My husband could never listen to my advice.”

All of that improved when the couple joined Indashyikirwa – which means ‘agents of change’ in Kinyarwanda– and examined the power dynamics in their relationship. The project aimed to address gender-based violence by challenging the harmful and restrictive norms about masculinity and femininity—norms which often mean women like Alphonsine are at the mercy of their husbands.

A recent evaluation of the program showed this approach has worked. Among women who joined Indashyikirwa, there has been a 55% reduction in the odds of reporting physical and/or sexual violence from their partners.

Alphonsine and Augustin now work together to feed their family.

Fast-forward four years and the family – like many others in Rwanda and across the region – are dealing with soaring food prices and high costs for crucial farm supplies like seeds and fertilizers.

Luckily, Alphonsine’s freedom to work outside their home and the couple’s management of their family finances as equals is helping them cope with these challenges together.

“I would say the changes have been around 40% increase on family income,” says Alphonsine. “My income changed, because I am now allowed to participate in income generating activities unlike before.”

Many of the people who joined the training are part of a savings group they called Duterane Inkunga – which literally translates as “Let’s support each other” – and in the intervening years the couple have used money from this to invest in their family farm.

Even though times are hard, they are working together to ensure they can cover the costs of food for their four children. Both agree that if they hadn’t joined the Indashyikirwa training and started working together as equals, their current situation would be far more serious.

“Considering the situation now, if I was to be seated at home without earning any money, I don’t think my husband would have managed alone. Our life would have been worse.”

Training for women working to face the challenges of the food crisis together.

Clementine’s story

More than 60 miles away, mother-of-three Clementine has also seen the benefits of changing the power dynamics in her relationship.

For Clementine, it’s being able to plan for the harvest together with her husband that’s made all the difference in their ability to keep putting food on the table.

“From cooperation with my husband, there is better management of our resources, and we are no longer in the lowest category of poverty ranking. We were able to increase our property. We bought three gardens which we use to grow our crops.”

Clementine’s ability to grow more crops means she is able to sell part of their harvest to others in the community.

“We sell our harvest so as to be able to afford other foods like rice which is not grown in this area.”

Clementine’s favorite meal is Irish potatoes with peanut and silver fish mixed with leafy vegetables. She is able to grow enough potatoes now and says the family eats more vegetables than they used to. But rising costs mean their meals are smaller than they were last year. High prices mean she sometimes goes more than a week without her favorite silver fish.

Despite these challenges, Clementine is also certain she would have been in a worse place if she hadn’t joined the Indashyikirwa training.

Clementine now feels she has an equal say in her marriage.

The project shows how addressing the root causes of violence can have far-reaching impacts for women and their families. Alongside significant reductions in the risk of violence from partners, Indashyikirwa participants reported increases in their odds of having cash income and household food security, accompanied by overall reductions in household scores for hunger.

“I can say the changes have been for the whole family,” Clementine said. “Our income has increased because there is better management of our resources. Even the money he used to hide from me after taking on extra activities, he is able to be open and tell me about it. This is what was missing.”

The experiences of women like Alphonsine and Clementine show that these benefits have been sustained years after the project ended. As food insecurity worsens around the world, investing in gender equality is imperative to ensure women have the resources they need to be resilient to change and keep feeding their families.

Learn more about the links between food insecurity and gender-based violence – and why CARE believes taking action against GBV is imperative to ensure access to food for women and girls – in our new brief ‘Gender-Based Violence & food insecurity: What we know and why gender equality is the answer.’

Learn more about the specific situation faced by farmers in Rwanda in our food brief ‘Indashyikirwa: Gender equality helping farmers cope with increased food insecurity.’

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