Tackling GBV in Rwanda: One couple’s story

Laurie Lee
Hassina and Hassan

The genocide in Rwanda still casts a long shadow.

On the first day of my visit to Rwanda, we paid our respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It was a very moving and unpleasant experience. In the Kigali Genocide Memorial it says that at least 500,000 women and girls (and some men and boys) were raped during the three-month genocide in 1994. That has a huge impact on survivors and perpetrators, and the level of sexual and gender-based violence in Rwanda remains high.

One of CARE’s main programmes in Rwanda is to prevent gender-based violence. CARE has worked on this in Rwanda with the support of Norway for several years. The British Government has just agreed to scale up the programme to reach half a million people directly, with indirect benefits to 2.5 million people (nearly 25% of the population of Rwanda).

On our third day, we visited Mukura, in Huye district, southern Rwanda, where we met our local partners RWAMREC (the Rwandan Men’s Resource Centre), a proudly feminist male organisation working to address the attitudes of men in order to prevent violence against women.

Addressing the backlash

Several years ago, CARE began seeing that empowering women through Village Savings and Loan Associations sometimes caused a backlash from their husbands/partners. And so we began to address this. By engaging couples, we helped men – and often women too – to think differently about gender-based violence, to see that it was wrong, and to prevent it.

One of several couples we met were Hassina and Hassan. Hassina is now the elected secretary of the village (of 774 people). She got several important text messages while we were talking to her, I think!

Hassina and Hassan have seven children, a couple of acres of farmland, a small house which cost £2,000, a cow and several goats. They have two bicycles, one a new one that they have just bought their son to get to school. But two years ago, things were different.


Hassan said his nickname in the village used to be Simba, because he was a big, rough, tough lion. He would get into fights and trouble a lot. He would drink too much and spend all his money. He would get angry with Hassina and his children. He would hit them, and sometimes worse. It was extraordinary how open and frank Hassan was with us about his previous bad behaviour.

Hassina had been a member of the local Village Savings and Loan Association for five years. When the training on gender-based violence was offered two years ago, she was able to get support in the village to encourage Hassan to attend the training with her. As with many of the men we met, it was the economic benefits that Hassan saw other people enjoying in the Savings and Loan Association that first persuaded him to attend the training.

The transformation of Hassan was palpable. He was a big man, but now softly spoken. He described himself now as a sheep, but occasionally his voice still boomed.

Working together

A penny just seemed to have dropped. He realised that he and Hassina and their children were all going to be much better off if they all started working together. He is no longer seen as the village trouble-maker. He says Hassina would never have been elected village secretary when they were known as a troubled household. He is proud of her that she’s been elected and also proud of what it means about how people regard him.

Now he helps with household chores and childcare if Hassina is tending to her village duties, or her Savings and Loan Association. Meanwhile Hassan has created a new Savings and Loan Association for himself and 30 more people. And Hassina of course helps when he is doing that.

Sharing the experience

Hassina and Hassan were true converts, anxious to share their experience with other couples, other villages and other towns. Each week they meet other couples in a group, and plan their outreach sessions to other communities. It felt like a programme which would scale up and sustain itself just because of the enthusiasm of the people who had the first training. With the British Government support, I see no trouble in reaching a quarter of the population of Rwanda.

Interestingly, Hassina said that as part of this scaling up, she thought that the local government leaders should also have the training. Hassina and Hassan also asked us if there was gender-based violence in the UK, and whether we had support groups to prevent it. We had to say, yes we do have gender-based violence in the UK too, and that perhaps we should learn more from the difference they had made.

It was absolutely remarkable to hear a couple talk so honestly and constructively about their problems and how they had overcome them.

Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website