Wednesday, 28 May 2008 11:15

Profile: Fidel Rutayisire

Written by Rosemary Okello

Fidel Rutayisire, the Rwanda Man who rallied the world to sign the petition against Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Kenya  during the post election violence

 The sight of Kenya burning on the television screen was enough to propel Fidel Rutayisire running looking for anything to help. In the words of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, “When a snake enters the house you look for the nearest stick to kill it.” 

Rutayisire was moved by what happened in his own country in 1994. he was just  one man, thousands of miles away from Kenya on the outskirts of Kigali in Rwanda, but he took a major initiative in redefining the lives of many Kenyan women affected by the post-election. 

It was like re-living his experience during the Rwanda genocide, the 32 year old Rutayisire said: “When I heard and saw on TV on what was happening in Kenya and the reports of women being raped, the scenes of what happened in Rwanda flashed through my mind and I went stiff.”

A lawyer by profession from Université Libre de Kigali (ULK), Rutayisire said, “I responded to the depressing situation by developing a website on which I first thought could rally the men in East Africa to do something about the situation in Kenya.”

He wanted to rally friends of Kenya to write a petition to end gender violence against hapless women. For the first time, the campaign started having effect as international organizations and individuals inside and outside the country started rallying for action.

“When the conflict started, one of my friends who was in Mombasa called me and said, ‘please pray for us, the situation is worse’. From there I understood that the same situation as the one that happened in Rwanda was going to take place. In February 2008, I personally spoke to a lady from Kenya and she told me how she experienced violence in Kenya.”

“But the message came home to me when I watched a BBC TV report on how women and girls  were being raped, I was  shocked and  resolved  that,  we  must do something.  Most importantly, the violence in Kenya reminded us of what happened in our own country Rwanda and I thought that maybe our early intervention would draw the attention of many people to act on the situation, especially people from the region or East-African Community countries. 

“We thought that if we could get as many voices as possible, then they could be used for advocacy not only in Rwanda, but also in other sister countries of the region to pressurize our top leaders to act. It is against that effect that we started this initiative of developing a petition that aims at calling  positive-minded men and male leaders around the world to speak out against violence in Kenya,  in particular male Kenyans to stop the violence, especially against the women and young girls”

But what moved Rutayisire to take such an action was that when your neighbour’s house is burning, you need to be counted by standing up with them. Kenya is a sister country to Rwanda and a country of the EAC, and just like everyone in the world was concerned on what was happening in the country, Rwandans were deeply affected by what was happening in Kenya.

“It affected all of us and we felt that  it is the duty of every citizen of this world to fight against violence wherever and whenever it is reported, because in such circumstances human lives are at stake and in danger, and therefore deserve any kind of help. 

Still feeling the impact of the Rwandan genocide, Rutayisire said that even though they had a similar initiative in Rwanda the context and magnitude was different, even though the root causes might be similar.

According to him, the genocide that happened in Rwanda was nothing but the power struggle, greed for wealth accumulation and total lack of governance due to the three factors mentioned above. Ethnical division and genocide are the manifestations of bad governance.  

He see the problems in Kenya as more or less similar to Rwanda’s and says the situation in Kenya before elections was an indication that the violence would erupt.

“I personally saw both leaders identifying themselves as belonging to their respective tribes (royal suites with tribal connotations) and not to the whole Nation and one People of Kenya. The divisions had already started and the outcome could not be different from what we saw as violence and deep ethnic divisions. And genocide was soon to follow if they did not make an effort to negotiate and reach an agreement of power sharing.”

However, Rutayisire is quick to say that in any bad situation, valuable lessons can be learnt. There can be no other lesson than seeing people suffering, losing their lives, deep divisions compounded by hatred, suspicion and mistrust within one nation. At the end of the day it is not Kibaki or Odinga, but the people of Kenya who are affected and this is a wound that will remain for ages and reconciliation will take time to take place.

He said, almost 15 years after the genocide in Rwanda, reconciliation is still an issue and the hope of achieving a real reconciliation is still a long way to go.  Adding, “Kenyan should see how Rwandese has come together through the unity and reconciliation, now we see ourselves as Rwandans rather than any tribe”.

For peace to prevail, Rutayisire is emphatic about bringing people who were responsible to the mass killing to face justice. Kenyans should be able to look beyond their tribes and those who committed crimes should be able to seek for forgiveness from their victims. He says that politicians should always campaign using manifestoes and their policies rather than drawing tribal sentiments into political campaigns.

The website by the Rwandese Men Resource Centre, titled Men’s Pledge against Gender Based Violence in Kenya during the Post Election Crisis, is three months old and has generated response from all over the world, placing the crisis in Kenya on the international agenda. 

Already over 380 people from all over the world have responded to the petition and Rutayisire is planning to send  the petitions to the Kenyan authorities and civil society organizations to show them Rwanda’s and the entire world’s concern. 

Married with one child Rutayisire, who is the founder of the organisation said that from the petition they will also lay down a foundation for future discussion and action to prevent violence and manage its consequences, not only for Kenyans who are deeply affected but also as the people of the sub-region and Africa. 


 

On the website, Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre wrote, “Today Kenya is experiencing an unprecedented wave of sexual violence that has been directed at thousands of Kenyan women, girls and a number of men and boys as a result of the post election crisis. As men, we recognize that violence against women and the girl child affects men as well as those who care for the family, the community and the nation. We recognize that men and male leaders have an important role to play in stopping gender based violence and acting as role models for other men. Today, we are joining our voices to denounce gender-based violence in Kenya and to publicly commit ourselves to working in active solidarity with women and NGOs struggling to end the ongoing gender-based violence in the conflict that has gripped Kenya. As men, we call upon other men and male leaders to publicly speak out, and to join in this global call to protect Kenyan women and children, to sign this petition”. 

The response has been overwhelming: “In the beginning, I was expecting to have 100 signatures from Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region, but I was surprised to see how people around the world are concerned by the Kenyan crisis and how they are speaking out against gender based violence in Kenya. So it’s really a coincidence to see how the petition has drawn response from all over the world.  However, I also believe in the strengths of the media and believe that many people are very sensitive to violence,” said Rutayisire. 

Messages of solidarity came from Australia, to the US and even all over Africa and Kenya, men responded with such passion on why Sexual and Gender based Violence should be stopped in Kenya.

Some of the response reads as follows;  from Italy, Munazi Muhimanyi Cyprien wrote, “ It is a shame  to Kenya and the entire African Continent that a so called responsible Government in Kenya, in a contemporary developing Africa and modern society as a whole, remains indifferent to the on-going gender based violence on its beautiful territory, yet, part to international agreements on human rights, while at the same time they are well aware of best practices of State management and democratic principles”.

MUKAMUDENGE Zubeda from Rwanda said, “Its a big shame for us who have been through these conflicts to watch what is happening in Kenya, lets stand by each other, respect our diversities and especially understand that our differences are not there to tear us apart but to enjoy the diversity. lets say NO to violance based on Gender, together we can.

Martin Dufresne, from Canada said, “ Kenya could become a leader among countries by implementing substantive action for gender justice, supporting grass-roots feminist organizations, efficiently sanctioning sexist abusers and furthering education work with programs defined by women and where male providers will remain accountable to feminist leadership. We are hopeful KenyaAfrica and throughout the world will choose this route and become a model in ”.

John O'Leary, Connecticut  wrote, “Dear Kenyan leaders, Please stop the sexual attacks and other forms of violence against women and girls in Kenya. Stopping this violence against women will demonstrate real masculinity and be a positive message for future generations of Kenyans and all human beings. This violence must stop for it harms all humanity. Not just in Kenya but here in the USA and everywhere on the planet.

In total there are over 380 responses from all over the world and the list is growing by the day. Fidel said that any programme that is geared related to gender-based violence (GBV) must address and include all members of the community, including men.

Anonymous, Rwanda wrote, “Fellow brothers, stop behaving like animals, don’t kill your brothers because of ethnic belonging, please don't rape women, this is the worst action against women so that your victim will never forget your face in her mind as I was told by a woman victim of sexual abuse.

However, he is still skeptical that even though lessons are many to be learnt the problem is that people do not use them to improve the future of the population. He recommends that the Government of Kenya and Kenya civil society organizations should send  some Kenyans to Rwanda to learn conflict management after such a crisis since Rwanda is doing well on that front. 

In 2004, the Government of Rwanda officially established a gender desk within the police to focus on the prevention of GBV and  provide assistance to victims. The Police are already registering a marked increase in numbers of GBV cases reported and interventions made. 

This demonstrates that the Government of Rwanda is committed to promoting gender equality and equity for equitable and sustainable development as it is reflected in its commitment in implementing international conventions and principles (as enshrined in the MDG 3 - on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and  its vision 2020). 

There are also a number of government institutions and NGOs that are actively involved in preventing gender based violence. For instance, the Draft Law on the Prevention, Protection and Punishment of Any Gender Based Violence was prepared by the Forum for Rwandan Women Parliamentarians (FFRP).  

He said that men play a significant role in helping to end GBV in their various roles. Men commit most of the violence, so it is up to them to stop it.  They have a vital responsibility on their peers’ pervasive behaviors and GBV can end if men are fully engaged in peer education and serve as watchdogs of their peers.  

Therefore what  his organization is  trying to do  is to strive to have a peaceful society where women and men share roles and responsibilities of raising families and governing society with equality and respect. He said, women should know that the battle against GBV is a long process that requires everyone’s efforts. 

His passionate appeal to women is:  “Please stand up and speak out against GBV every where starting in your own families. The secret is to partner with men as they are valuable partners in fighting against gender based violence. Let your slogan be, working hand in hand with men, all of us will stop violence.” 

From someone who was born in the eastern part of the Democratic  Republic of  Congo in a rural area called Masisi.  Rutayisire grew up in a lower middle class and Christian family. “My parents are still alive. I have six brothers and two sisters. My dad is a teacher and my mom is a business village woman.” 

His experience in the civil society has prepared him well for his current work: “I worked in different human rights organizations before I and eight colleagues founded Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre. I am a gender sensitive man and passionate human rights activist who hates any form of social injustice.” 

Talking passionately about his involvement in the GBV, he said: “At primary school, I experienced a sad case of a teacher who raped his girl student. In my large family, I have seen the negative effects faced by women and their children who lived in never-ending violence inflicted by their husbands. We all have to work together to address the causes and enable men to rise above their old history and become the good people they can be. GBV is still a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world.” 

And through his organisation’s work, the Rwanda CSOs and that of the  Government of Rwanda the country now has a strong commitment to promote gender equality and equity through the establishment of the Ministry of gender and family promotion (MIGEPROF). The enactment of the law on matrimonial regimes, liberalities and succession to promote women’s rights in 1999 was another big step in promoting women’s rights in Rwanda. Furthermore gender budgeting was taken into account from 2002 to ensure that the government considers gender issues in all development programs.  The Government of Rwanda has also ratified all major international human rights treaties and conventions and reinforced its commitment to implementing international agreements such as the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the consensus at various United Nations conferences such as the Conference on Women, held in Beijing. 

That is why for him, rallying the world to speak on the GBV in Kenya was like an extension of his work. He said, “As a leader of an organization working to prevent gender-based violence and as human being and Human rights activist, Fidel was worried about the wider scale and the continued post-election violence in Kenya.  

The Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC)  which is behind the petition was founded in October 2006 by like-minded men with different experiences in gender and other social disciplines in response to alarming cases of Gender based violence and in response to proactive policies and strategies of the government to mainstream gender as one of the pillars for the social-economic development of Rwanda. 

The organisation since then is geared towards involving and mainstreaming the role of men in the fight against gender based violence (GBV). 

Being  a membership organization the membership is drawn from interested men who share the vision of eliminating Gender Based Violence. 

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