Specialized focal points, desks or units on gender issues (or specifically on violence against women) can be established inside relevant ministries (i.e. interior, justice and defense) as well as at the national headquarters of the police service or armed forces or sub-national level police departments or specific military battalions.
The focal points/ desks usually play a strategic role in internal gender mainstreaming and in the implementation of related policies and procedures. Although some institutional gender desks may have a broad mandate covering coordination/ awareness-raising as well as direct service delivery to survivors, their key functions often involve:
Coordinating the implementation, monitoring and evaluation (and perhaps contributing to the development of) relevant operational strategies, guidelines and procedures
Strengthening personnel capacity to investigate cases of violence (e.g. through coordinating training of the police or armed forces in this area)
Improving police/ military response to survivors, which might include providing a hotline, coordinating the establishment of specialized community-based units in local facilities/ rooms to receive victims, promoting procedures and protocols on investigation, interviewing, enforcing protection orders, etc.
Increasing public awareness of gender-based violence and the role of the police/ military in assisting survivors (e.g. developing communications campaigns and materials or participation in public events on the issue)
Advancing data collection and case management systems to monitor information on the incidence, types and patterns of gender-based violence and the processing of reported cases
Gender desks or coordinators need adequate resources and decision-making authority in order to have an impact on police, military and wider sector practices. The desk or focal point should also be placed relatively high within the institutional hierarchy to ensure they can authorize and implement proposed changes as needed.
In 2005, a Gender Desk was established at the Rwanda National Police funded under the Enhancing Protection from Gender Based Violence project implemented by UNIFEM with funding from UNDP. The project has been ongoing since with support from UNIFEM (now UN Women) and the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden. The overall goal of the initiative is to enhance the Rwandan National Police’s response to gender-based violence (GBV), in line with the country’s commitments to relevant international and regional agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Great Lakes Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children, among others.
The objectives of the Desk are to:
increase police logistics for rapid response to reports of gender-based violence;
increase police capacity in investigating gender-based violence cases;
increase police capacity in counseling survivors;
develop strategies and guidelines on the prevention of and response to GBV;
increase public awareness on GBV and the role of the Police Gender Desk;
assist survivors in accessing appropriate health, legal and psycho-social support services; and
collect data and information on gender-based violence in Rwanda.
The infrastructure and human resource capacities of the Desk include an operational office at the National Police Headquarters in Kigali with six staff, designated Gender-Based Violence Focal Points at all province and district police stations, motorcycles and vehicles to ensure rapid responses to reports of GBV cases, in particular in rural areas, modern interview and surveillance rooms and a toll-free hotline (3512) to facilitate reporting of incidents.
In an innovative follow-up to the Police Gender Desk, the Rwanda Defense Force established a Gender Desk to complement and support more effective military responses to cases of violence against women. Since the desk became fully operational in 2008, the Defense Force Gender Desk officers have conducted training on gender equality concepts, women’s human rights, and gender-based violence for close to 5,000 defense force members (military officers, cadets at the military academy, ex-combatants and local defense forces) and civilians, in three out of Rwanda’s five provinces. It has also trained gender focal points at the district level and supported the creation of anti-gender based violence clubs. By engaging the private sector in its campaign, it has partnered with the leading cellular phone company to provide a free hotline (3945) to report cases of military-related violence against women and girls.
Reports of violence to the Defense Force have increased since the Gender Desk was established. Factors contributing to the initiative’s success include:
the military is well-placed to locate and respond to issues of violence against women and girls, being deployed at local levels and on patrol 24 hours a day;
the military may be present at times and in locations where police are not; and
training of officers preparing for peace missions, as part of efforts to increase the number of women deployed and enhance their ability to combat gender-based violence has influenced recruitment and deployment of female police to peacekeeping missions such as Darfur.
Results (as of 2009) include:
Training of 250 police officers from community policing committees from all five police regions on Standard Operating Procedures of prevention of and response to GBV
Sensitization of 80 females from the Rwanda National Police Women’s Network (e.g. police officers, Rwanda Defense Force Gender desk and youth representatives from schools) from 5 regions on use of the GBV Standard Operating Procedures
Training of 166 GBV Desk police officers on gender-based violence from a human rights and security perspective as well as on investigation
Training of 45 police officers in psycho-social counseling
Improved operational capacities (acquiring 15 motorcycles) to ensure rapid response to cases, particularly in rural areas
Strengthened collaboration with the Rwanda Defense Forces, including a training of 70 military officers in Kigali City
Enhanced partnerships with key stakeholders such as local governments, Rwanda Defense Forces, medical, psychosocial and legal service providers and women’s rights advocates.
Enhanced sensitization and awareness among communities, local governments (e.g. in Gasabo District and Kigali City), schools (400 teachers and students trained), women cooperatives (300 members trained in Musanze und Gicumbi districts), religious leaders and faith-based organizations
Formation of a regional network on sports for social change targeting prevention and response
Development and dissemination of sensitization materials (posters, brochures, magazines, stickers, calendars) for communities
Enhanced monitoring, collection and analysis of data across the country
Increased reports and effective interventions in gender-based violence
Increased access to medical, psychosocial and legal services for survivors
Influenced establishment of a network of Rwandan female police in Rwanda for enhanced response to GBV and networking
Excerpt from Case Study: UNIFEM .2009. Establishment of Rwanda National Police Gender Desk (2005-present). UNIFEM. Kigali.