How Rwanda reduced violence against women by half

by 07th Oct 2019
Erik and Olive received couples’ training as part of the Indashyikirwa project Erik and Olive received couples’ training as part of the Indashyikirwa project

“He always came home late and drunk and he often kicked the door open while hurling insults at me and the children. I became such a miserable person.... After a number of curriculum sessions, I started to notice a change of heart in my husband, he started taking responsibility for the family needs.... He even went ahead to open up a joint account for us.” (Quote by a project participant – but not from Olive who is pictured above.) Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of violence against women and girls – but our Indashyikirwa project in Rwanda proved there are ways to change this: by supporting couples to build healthier, more equitable relationships, and by helping communities to challenge and address the values which normalise violence.

In Rwanda 40% of married women will experience some form of emotional, physical, and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime (NISR, 2016). The four-year Indashyikirwa project focused on developing a couples’ curriculum and activism programme which had a transformational effect on violent and abusive relationships among couples.

Using a robust mixed methods approach which included a randomised control trial, the project demonstrated a reduction by 55% in odds of severe IPV experience among women and a reduction of 47% in perpetration of severe IPV among men within couples who participated in the training curriculum. These changes were assessed two years after the baseline, which shows tremendous impact – and outstrips reductions in diverse forms of IPV achieved by other successful group-based IPV projects!

Indashyikirwa ran from 2014 to 2018 with $5 million in funding from DFID. It reached more than 80,000 people directly and 1.1 million indirectly.

What did we achieve?

  • Relationship quality improved considerably, and levels of intimate partner violence decreased: Levels of conflict in relationships went down by 16% as couples gained new skills to manage tensions and triggers of violence within their relationship.
  • Men and women took more decisions together and tried new gender roles: Men started asking advice from their wife and consulting them on household investment decisions, for example. Men started valuing the benefits of shared domestic roles and how this can improve the quality of the relationship for both children and partners.
  • Couples increased economic status and improved food security: Men and women reported they were more likely to have cash income. The project also saw a six percentage point improvement in food security for its participants, compared with a 6% reduction in food security for community members who did not take part in the project.
  • Mental health improved: Men and women were 25% less likely to show symptoms of depression.
  • Communities don’t accept violence as much: Many participants reported a noticeable shift in social norms. Men were no longer mocked for sharing financial decisions/resources or household chores with their spouses. Communities learned how to question and challenge norms underlying IPV including, for example, men’s entitlement to sex in a marriage.
  • Children are less likely to see violence at home: Both women and men were less likely to hit their children and less likely to believe physical punishment was appropriate.

How did we get there?

  • Undertake couples training: 860 couples attended 21 weekly sessions over five months. They went through facilitated discussions and reflection on a wide range of topics including power and gender, rights, skills for managing tensions and IPV, the benefits of non-violence and gender equality, shared decision making, and moving from intensive self-reflection to community action. After each session, couples were given ‘take home’ activities to apply what they had learned.
  • Conduct community activism: 420 people from the trained couples were given further training to become community activists and use their activism skills to facilitate discussions at community level in order to shift harmful social norms.
  • Train and engage opinion leaders: Opinion leaders (coming from a wide range of sectors including justice, police, religious institutions and decentralised authorities) played a key role in creating an enabling environment to address gender-based violence. They integrated Indashyikirwa messaging into their ongoing activities (e.g. sermons, community debates), while supporting activists in their activism effort.
  • Set up women’s safe spaces: Women’s Safe Spaces were opened three times a week to support women and men who wanted to report IPV, educate women about their rights, and refer/accompany individuals who wished to report abuse or seek services. 92.8% of women and 96.2% of men were aware of services at the safe spaces and were willing to recommend it to others.

What did we learn?

  • More time needed for broader community change: Activists were just hitting their stride with activism activities when project support ended. A minimum of three years of activist activity is required for activism to cover the required content necessary to shift norms and effect behaviour at a population level.
  • Value of quality time together for couples: The couples’ curriculum itself allowed couples to spend a greater amount of time together, which was identified as an important platform for fostering greater communication.
  • It is possible to reduce use of physical punishment of children in a short time frame: Investments in violence prevention need to start early in the lifecycle, and include evidence-based approaches to intercept and transform the way violence is normalised to children early on: through their own experiences of corporal punishment as well as witnessing IPV.
  • Build on the positive: It was important for the curricula and activism materials to cover the benefits of positive alternatives to IPV, and to emphasise skills for building healthy, non-violent relationships.

The Indashyikirwa programme was funded by DFID Rwanda and delivered by CARE, Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre and Rwanda Women’s Network in partnership with the research partner What Works to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls.

Want to learn more?

Read all about the Indashyikirwa programme on the Insights In Depth page Life free from violence.

Sonia Martins

I provide strategic support to CARE country offices and manage a portfolio of projects mainly on gender-based violence and governance themes. I have also been supporting gender mainstreaming across CARE since 2011 and I currently co-chair the CARE gender network.

I hold a Masters degree in development and governance from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and have over 10 years' experience in programme management, particularly in Latin America and Africa.

Email: Martins@careinternational.org