Transforming Violence from the Home Outward

Nov 24, 2015 | Rwanda

How has mass violence impacted the home life, of couples, parents, and whole families, in regions where atrocities have taken place? And how does violence in the home reflect—and affect—violence in the broader society?

In Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, decades of armed conflict and mass violence have worsened communal and family violence, especially against women and girls. It is a familiar story worldwide. Gender-based violence, in turn, normalizes all forms of violence throughout society and traumatizes future generations.

We have been working closely with eight leading peacebuilding and gender equity organizations in these three countries, through the Men and Women as Partners in Peacebuilding program (in partnership with Men’s Resources International). Together, with these organizations, we are investigating new approaches to turning this violence around: promoting more equitable relationships between men and women as a foundation for building peace.

The structured program proposes a new model for cross-gender peace partnerships, based on four pillars: Dialogue, Compassion, Collaboration, and Equality. The NGOs in each of the three countries recently completed two series of pilot projects: one, to build their own capacity by incorporating the cross-gender partnership model throughout their organizations’ work; and the second, to train and mentor community members in the partnership model. Each of these pilot projects brought together cross-gender understanding with conflict transformation.

We’d like to share one story with you, told to us by Venant Nzabonimana of the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre—one of the peace leaders in the Men and Women as Partners in Peacebuilding program.

Please note: The following story features domestic violence that is typical of many marriages in the communities where this project takes place. The workshop this couple attended was a first-time educational opportunity for most participants, who had only begun to recognize cycles of violence in their lives. Within this local context, and with such strong community support for change, the results can be transformative.

This story begins with a conversation Mr. Nzabonimana had with a woman he had engaged in a community workshop. Her marriage had begun with a traditional kidnapping, against her will, and she had since given birth to six children from rape. Various authorities had advised her to either stay in the relationship, or to leave, but neither solution was helpful to her.

She said, “When you talk about everything about violence, it is me.” And she cried again. She cried and I cried with her, until she finished, and she was happy. She said, “At least I have found a person who can listen to me. My husband could not listen to me, the pastor could not listen to me, the choir members did not listen to me, the local authorities. But at least today, I have somebody who could listen.”

So, I called the man, and when he came, I asked him, “I want you to tell me about the problem that is in your family. I talk about violence, and your wife cries.” And I asked the man, “Look.” We had a lot of papers on the wall about gender relations, about gender collaboration, about dialogue—about the conditions to have harmony in the family, and about gender-based violence as well. So all these things, the man looked at them, and then I said, “Did you follow the two days?’” He said, “Yes.” “Have you learned something?” He said, “Yes.”

“So, let’s discuss now. Look at your life with your wife and tell me what you have applied so far. What have you learned there? Have you used lessons from this in the relationship with your wife? And tell me what you have not done.” He said, “There are many things that I didn’t do.” “So if you recognized the responsibility to do the things you didn’t do, let your wife also tell us what she is not happy for.”

The lady spoke, and after one hour the man really—I could read in his attitude some compassion. And the man, what he did, was to kneel in front of his wife and he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that really what I did was painful to you.” And he cried as well.

In the morning when they came back, the lady was very, very, very happy. She was smiling. The lady stood up and said, “My friends, I would ask you to tell me who has ever seen my smile since I got married.” Everybody was saying, “no one here has.” “So I can tell you since yesterday I can smile, and I will smile until I die. Why? Because at least I have seen somebody to listen to me and hear my story.” And she told other people, “My husband has told me that he will never use force to have sex and he has recognized everything he has done against me.”

And the man took from his pocket a small booklet and he said, “You all know me, how I lived in my family, Before today, Madame, you didn’t know what was in that black booklet. So as of today, this is the sign that we have reconciled. I never will withdraw money without consulting you. You keep that booklet, and then if we have to withdraw money, we will just dialogue.”

And, I tell you, the whole room, people were crying for joy. They were not sad, but they had emotion. So that is one of the experiences. When I returned to monitor the program, I noticed that they had become respected people for other groups and all the church. Today when they want to transform people, they invite this couple to go in to talk to people. So, it is impressive. It is one story; there are others.

This is only one story among many that we have heard of the impact that this work can have. In the coming months, we will support participating organizations to implement more pilot projects—and to evaluate how peacebuilding practices can be adapted to create harmony in the social relationships that are at the heart of each community. We will continue to investigate how the pursuit of gender equity, through collaboration, compassion, and dialogue, can contribute to a strong societal culture of peace.

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