April 19, 2024

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Refugee men in Mahama take the lead in raising awareness about gender-based violence 

Patrick Nsengiyumva

In Mahama camp, a group of refugee men is standing up against gender-based violence (GBV). By being positive and supportive, these men are contributing to support women feel comfortable talking about things they couldn’t talk about before.

“When we conduct campaigns in the camp, more people become aware of gender-based violence (GBV) and learn where to seek assistance,” explains Patrick Nsengiyumva, one of the co-founders of the club dubbed “EJONIHEZA” translated as “tomorrow is better.”   

Patrick says they created the club to break down cultural walls in the diverse community of Burundians and Congolese refugees. 

Established in 2021, the EJONIHEZA club is one of four clubs of men – including two in Mahama camp and two in the host community – who came together after receiving training on positive masculinity and the social contract approach, which is about the role of the community members in solving the problems that they are facing.

The club is composed of 30 refugee men from all villages of Mahama Camp, the largest refugee camp located in eastern Rwanda.   

EJONIHEZA Club’s approach involves mass mobilization through awareness campaigns where they visit households through door-to-door approaches, and community by community to spread messages about the prevention of GBV. As role models, their presence is well-known in every village, advocating for positive masculinity, which entails embracing principles of gender equality and harmony.

Beyond combating gender-based violence, the club also advocates for addressing challenges hindering girls from accessing education and confronts the root causes of domestic violence affecting their educational opportunities.

For instance, they managed to bring together 157 teen mothers. They advocated for them to go back to school and access career training with support from EDUFAM, a project of PRO-FEMMES TWESE HAMWE that aims to empower displaced women and girls through education. 

Young mothers have also received training on essential life skills and self-care from Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe. Some were supported to go back to school, while others were given vocational training in sewing and hairdressing for six months.  Despite facing cultural barriers, Patrick says their club has persisted in its mission to combat gender-based violence.    

“Even today, cultural barriers persist. Sometimes we notice a culture of secrecy,” he says, adding that one of the reasons GBV persists is because some people see it as a family private matter, an attitude he along with other men in the club is working to change.  

Patrick acknowledges that their robust awareness campaigns in the camp are yielding results, as more women become aware of various forms of GBV, know where to seek assistance, and are increasingly willing to speak up against GBV.     

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