Reflections on working on gender-based violence in conflict settings: Interview of Micheline Minani Muzaneza

Micheline is extremely experienced in working on GBV in conflict settings, and has been engaged in fighting for women’s rights since she was a young girl. She has worked for United Nations in Burundi helping to gather information on GBV during the Burundian civil war and its aftermath, and worked as a Human Rights Assistant handling cases of GBV and working together with UNICEF in Burundi. She has also assisted female ex-combatants left behind by disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, who are often not included in the DDR programs even though they participated in the war.

In Issue 4
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Since 2010, Micheline has worked for Sonke and trains Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees—some of whom are ex-combatants—who have come to South Africa fleeing from war in their home countries. Included in Micheline’s many responsibilities is to organize group discussions with women from the Eastern part of the DRC, many of whom have experienced GBV.

Micheline facilitating a workshop on sexual and gender based violence with refuges. Bellville, March 2013Micheline facilitating a workshop on sexual and gender based violence with refuges. Bellville, March 2013

Lilian Fuchs: What do facilitators have to be prepared for when working on GBV in conflict settings, and what challenges do you face during your work?

Micheline Muzaneza: Working in Burundi, I first realised that it is difficult for women to reveal that they have been raped or that they are in abusive relationships because the culture does not allow them to talk about cases of rape in their family or about their experience of GBV. There is also a security risk, because if you disclose the perpetrator and he is a relative to someone in a high position, you and your family can be placed in danger. So it is challenging to gather information about GBV in conflict and start a discussion around it.

As a facilitator or trainer, I expect to have crises during the workshops and to be prepared on how to handle them. Participants might not be able to control their emotions when a part of the workshop reminds them of their own experiences. We also have to be prepared to face resistance from those participants who may not yet be ready to have their beliefs challenged. To talk as a woman to men about GBV, or about how they can change their behavior towards women, is challenging. They are convinced that a woman does not have anything to say. That was very hard for me as a female facilitator in the beginning, but undergoing training by the Women Peacemakers Program helped me cope with those challenges.

LF: What else has helped inform your work and approach to dealing with GBV in conflict settings?

MM: Since I have gone through the trainer’s training, I am part of the African Women’s Active Nonviolence Initiatives for Social Change (AWANICh) network and was trained on how women can act nonviolently. Growing up in a conflict setting, we wanted to take revenge and only knew how to react by using violence. During the training were taught how to claim our rights with nonviolence.

LF: What do you consider your major successes in your work?

MM: The major successes have been to help SGBV survivors to come out about the trauma they are having, and facilitating those who are ready to engage in further counseling with the rape crisis and trauma centers.

LF: What steps should be taken by an organization that wants to work on GBV in conflict settings?

MM: First of all, always be gender-sensitive in your work. Secondly, you need to understand the specific context of the country. You have to know the conflict very well, understand why people were involved in the conflict, and know the culture – even speak some of their language, to let people trust you. Thirdly, counseling skills and experience are very important.

I would encourage the organization to hold group discussions. I discovered this works best. People are very willing to join group discussions as they learn that they are not alone, and that there is always someone who has similar experiences. Group discussions help people to open up and understand the benefits of counseling. Whenever there is counseling, it is also important to speak in one language and to ensure that confidentiality is secured. You have to have a big heart because you listen to a lot, and people may get angry as you uncover trauma they have experienced.

When working on GBV in a conflict setting, it is necessary to involve men and to let them play a big role. Therefore organizations like Sonke and Promundo must ensure that their work and research to educate men on GBV is specific to each region. The work of the MenEngage Africa network are so important to this work.

by Lilian Fuchs