This essay addresses the challenges and opportunities for preventing women living in conflict-affected or post-conflict communities from becoming victims of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Violent conflict is a part of other factors that hamper human development and its effect can last long after the conflict ends.1United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Uganda Human Development Report 2015. Kampala, Uganda: UNDP. p. 2015). Furthermore, exposure of adults to high levels of war-related violence is a known risk factor for IPV.2Saile R, Neuner F, Ertl V, Catani C. Prevalence and predictors of partner violence against women in the aftermath of war: a survey among couples in northern Uganda. Social Science and Medicine. 2013; 86:17–25 In this regard, several studies have shown that IPV rates are high in conflict-affected areas.3Stark L, Roberts L, Wheaton W, Acham A, Boothby N, Ager A. Measuring violence against women amidst war and displacement in northern Uganda using the “neighborhood method.” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2010;64(12):1056–61.17].

This article draws from a study conducted on IPV in northern Rwanda in the immediate aftermath of conflict. The population of Rwanda has also been exposed to the 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsis and IPV should be understood in the context of wars in the region. The population of the northern region of Rwanda, which constitutes part of the area of this study, has suffered during the war between the Rwanda Patriotic Army (APR) and the Ex-Rwanda Popular Front (FAR) during the period between 1990-1994. After the war and the 1994 genocide, the same region suffered also from the 1995-1998 war of Abacengezi, which involved insurgents from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The war created instability and contributed to economic decline as well as death, displacement, and psychological and emotional trauma.

As a way of addressing some of the issues emerging from the post-genocide period and incursions into northwest Rwanda by ex-military hostiles who fled to Congo following their defeat in 1994, the government of Rwanda established laws, policies, and programs to increase women’s role in socio-economic reconstruction and protecting them from IPV. These included the Organic Law No 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 on issues of marital rape, forced marriage, child defilement, and human trafficking, reinforced by the Law Nº 68/2018 of 30/08/2018 prescribing punishments for committing gender-based violence (GBV). Isange One-Stop Centers (IOSC) provide medical, psychological, social, and legal services to victims of gender-based violence. At the community level, “Umugoroba w’Imiryango” (Parenting Evening) meetings have been initiated, where family issues regarding wellbeing, GBV, and marital violence are discussed. “Inshuti z’Umuryango” translates to “Friends of the Family,” and members are selected at the cell and village level. They oversee the resolution of family conflicts. This promotion of gender equality, economic independence, and social support contributes toward reducing the risk of IPV among women.4Umubyeyi A, Mogren I, Ntaganira J, Krantz G. Women are considerably more exposed to intimate partner violence than men in Rwanda: results from a population-based, cross-sectional study. BMC Women’s Health. 2014;14: 99. doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-99].

The study assessed IPV among 424 women living in the Rulindo district of Rwanda’s northern Province and responded to two scales: Woman Abuse Screening Tool (WAS-8 short scale) that assesses IPV and a questionnaire based on demographic factors and other IPV determinants.

Findings related to the IPV

Of the 424 respondents surveyed, 42.7% reported IPV in the last 12 months. 66.7% described their relationship as being marked by tension, and 63% worked out arguments with their partners with some difficulty. 25% of participants reported that arguments often result in feeling down or bad about themselves and being hit, kicked, or pushed. 27.4% of respondents were often frightened by what their partner says or does, while 22.4% had often been physically, emotionally (26.7%), and sexually (14.6%) abused by their partner. Those in the Cyungo sector reported that a history of drug and alcohol use and previous imprisonment for domestic violence were significant predictors of IPV.

The results from the present study are similar to those found in other studies. Alcohol abuse by the male partner has been documented as a predictor of IPV in conflict-affected northern Uganda5Black, E., Worth, H., Clarke, S. et al. Prevalence and correlates of intimate partner violence against women in conflict-affected northern Uganda: a cross-sectional study. Conflict and Health 13, 35 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-019-0219-8 and Nigeria.6Black, E., Worth, H., Clarke, S. et al. Prevalence and correlates of intimate partner violence against women in conflict-affected northern Uganda: a cross-sectional study. Conflict and Health 13, 35 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13031-019-0219-8 The high probability of recidivism among people who have committed IPV in the past has been documented.7Fernandez-Montalvo J, Echeburua E, Amor PJ, 2005. Aggressors against women in prison and in the community: An exploratory study of a differential profile, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 2005, Vol. 49, Issue 2, pp. 158-167 IPV perpetration was also found among patients with drug addiction.8Ismail R, Shafei T El, Arafa SM, Aboalanwar F. Psychosocial background of female and male convicted of Intimate Partner Homicide. Egyptian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 41, Issue 2, 2020; 71–81. https://new.ejpsy.eg.net/article.asp?issn=1110-1105;year=2020;volume=41;issue=2;spage=71;epage=81;aulast=Ismail;type=0

Conclusion and some recommendations

While Rwanda has made significant progress in reforming the policy and legislative frameworks for protecting women and girls, IPV continues to be a challenge and further actions are needed to protect the women.

Alcohol and drug use by a male partner were positively associated with IPV. The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion in collaboration with the Ministry of Health must emphasize the measures to prevent alcohol and drug abuse among males to curb IPV. As living with a partner was associated with IPV, leaving an intimate abusive relationship may constitute a solution. However, the government agencies overseeing women’s affairs, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) must provide adequate resources to protect the victims from reprisal.

Recidivism among people who have committed IPV has been also documented and we recommend that the Rwanda correctional services (RCS) integrate cognitive-behavioral therapy and reinforce communication on changing one’s behavior. Further qualitative study is needed to explore the contribution of previous exposure to different wars to IPV in Rulindo district and other districts regions affected by the war for liberation (1990-1994) and the war of Abacengezi (1995-1998).

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