In 1991, ethnic tensions were flaring in the country and this had fuelled social and political upheavals across Rwanda. The multiparty political system had just been given a green-light and this had added to the political chaos in the country.
The RPA had just launched its liberation struggle so there was a glimmer of hope; the larger social, ethnic, economic and political dysfunctions in the country had taken a toll on the family unit and the brunt of all these problems was felt by women and children.
And this is the time Haguruka was born, midwifed by a handful of women burdened by the social injustices women and children were going through across the country.
Creation phase (1991-1994)
Founded in 1991, Haguruka’s mission was to promote and defend the rights of women and children. Haguruka means ‘stand up’ in Kinyarwanda. The organization works towards improving access to justice and increased empowerment initiatives to ensure women and children may claim their rights throughout Rwanda. Haguruka continues at the forefront in the fight for women and children’s rights over the past three decades as a registered non-governmental organization under Rwanda law. The founders of the organization wanted to help change the plight of women and children-many of whom were absorbing all the shocks of a then poorly governed country. They envisioned an organization that would work closely with the government as well as other organs in availing solutions to the problems women and children faced at the time.
The goal was to have men inclusive, because the responsibility of defending the rights of women and children falls in the hands of men as well. This philosophy informed the organization’s logo which depicts a man and a woman upholding a picture of the globe, with a kid in between them also attempting to reach the globe. The central message in the logo is that the duty of upholding and defending the rights of women and children fall on men and women, and children also have to be oriented in the same values while still young.
Rebuilding phase (1995-2001)
After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the country was in total ruins, a million people had been killed and more had fled the country. The treasury as well as other government parastatals had been looted and plundered and the country was in a state of emergence. Much as the killings had stopped, the country was still bleeding, Rwanda’s social fabric was in tatters and more than ever, women and children needed organizations like Haguruka.
Social injustices against women and children were widespread. Many women were too disempowered to engage in any income generating activities, or have regular jobs to earn a living, even the few who worked and earned a living, it didn’t help them much because they had no right over the money they earned. The men had full custodianship of the money women earned and it is them that made decisions of how it was spent. A woman needed someone to stand with her, fight for her and defend her at such a difficult time, and that is the space Haguruka occupied. Haguruka was not just confronting social injustices, but a culturally rooted patriarchal system that was inherently insensitive to women.
Haguruka kicked off with mounting advocacy and sensitizations campaigns in certain parts of the country. It also conducted mediation between conflicting family members, gave legal counsel to women in courts of laws and intervened in the problem of street children and child defilement. The organisation came up with priority areas of intervention to begin with, and these included supporting children in getting scholastic materials to go back to school, as well as offering psychosocial support to women who had been shattered by the genocide.
The other intervention Haguruka carried out was helping in rehabilitation of houses that had been destroyed in Kigali and other places such as Bugesera. Since then, Haguruka’s legacy has always focused on supporting Rwandan vulnerable women and has been a friend and defender of women for all these years. The organization championed the post-genocide advocacy for women and girl child, because at the time the legal challenges women faced came to the forefront.
Resilience phase (2001-present)
Back then, there were a number of agencies that helped women, but women empowerment with a legal perspective was something entirely new brought by Haguruka. We wanted to represent women who could not afford council in the courts of law. Haguruka’s work had an impact on all the women empowerment laws that came into force at the time. Through the legal counsel that the organization offered, some women won court cases even before many of these laws came into force. A lot of the work was around advocacy to change discriminatory laws, for instance in 2002, in partnership with other civil society organizations like Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe, Haguruka worked on proposals to be included in the 2003 constitution under the constitution and legal reform commission.
Haguruka presented the civil society position on the proposed women-leaning issues to be included in the constitution, for instance the 30 percent quota proposal, and by the end of it all, 98 percent of all their proposals had been included in the constitution. Other discriminatory legal provisions the organisation advocated for included the citizenship law, for instance in one provision it said that a child born to a Rwandan man and a foreign woman is born with Rwandan citizenship, yet a child born to a Rwandan woman and a foreign man was not born with Rwandan citizenship, which was unfair.
Haguruka pushed for this law to be reformed such that a child born to a Rwandan woman and a foreign man is also born with Rwandan citizenship, and it was successfully reformed.
Haguruka also did advocacy for reforms in the family law. It also contributed significantly in the drafting of the inheritance law, it also helped in the dissemination of the law, the organization developed a simplified brochure of the law and distributed it across the different structures. The children protection rights being enjoyed today can also be traced to some of Haguruka’s earlier interventions when the country was drafting laws. Central to Haguruka’s work is the family unit, many of their approaches are built around engaging family members, for instance conducting community dialogues with couples in conflict together with other model couples-where they dialogue and learn together, change mindsets and catalyze this change to their community.
They have also created safe spaces for women where they meet and discuss specific situations, learn how to be assertive and articulate their problems to become key actors in building peace at family and community levels. The organization continues to do capacity development and awareness raising, and this is often done in collaboration with other institutions and local leaders among other tools using community radios. It now has established community structures and a team of paralegals through which the work is coordinated and executed. Beyond advocacy, the organization also championed education of women and children about their rights, something it continues to do.
To date, the organization has remained true to its core mandate of promoting and defending the rights of women and children. Through legal aid and psychosocial counselling, the primary service provided by Haguruka is to assist women and children to recover/regain their rights and dignity. To perform this noble responsibility, Haguruka is to strengthen access of women and children and other vulnerable groups to legal aid services and get their rights as aided by the organisation.
Capacity development and awareness rising is among core pillars, where the organisation will focus on the development of staff, expansion of programs and interventions, education of Haguruka right holders (women and children), sensitization of community and public on women and children’s rights, and engaging stakeholders in the process of prevention and response. This is purposed to increase knowledge of stakeholders and right-holders on Haguruka’s interventions and rights of women and children, legal framework and policies.
As for research and advocacy, Haguruka aims at promoting research and evidence-based advocacy on women and children’s human rights and issues related to injustice and promoting knowledge about the organisation. The organisation vows to achieve all through its tools such as Ingo Z’amahoro (peaceful homes), use of mobile legal clinics, community campaigns, social cohesion and reconciliation, promotion of alternative dispute resolution, among other resources.
The goal is for the organisation to form its brand as a reference and learning establishment when it comes to women and children’s rights and welfare.