Headquartered in Kigali, Rwanda, AVEGA Agahozo was founded in 1995 to help widows and their dependents escape the poverty, anguish and misery that filled their lives following the genocide of 1994. Today, AVEGA has centers across Rwanda and includes among its members more than 20,000 widows and more than 71,000 dependants and orphans. Of the 300,000 to 400,000 survivors of the Rwandan genocide, widows outnumber widowers ten to one. It is the widows and orphans who witnessed the atrocities committed and, in many cases, suffered extreme violence themselves. Many are haunted by the genocide and still cannot talk about their experiences.
Sexual violence was often used to humiliate and degrade women during the killings, with between 250,000 and 500,000 women raped during the 100 days of violence. Many of these women were traumatized or ashamed and are seeking help now only because they are ill. For these women, AVEGA is a refuge, providing medical services, psychological counseling, education and training, housing and legal services. More than 47,000 women are receiving medical treatment through its programs.
The three health centers set up by AVEGA have provided easy access to regular medical care and made possible regular visits to those suffering from AIDS. AVEGA has coordinated the sensitizing and voluntary testing for HIV of over 10,000 of its members, and delivers antiretroviral treatment and wraparound care and treatment, including nutrition support, to more than 1,500 HIV+ widows. AVEGA is now managing a new programme, introduced last year, to provide educational support to children born of rape to women survivors, a particularly marginalized group in Rwanda.
AVEGA also assists widows who wish to testify against those accused of genocide. Members are accompanied to court and receive assistance by AVEGA in getting their cases resolved. To date, at least 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted nationwide. Originally, when many widows were unwilling to testify, AVEGA sent hundreds of trainers into the villages to teach others how to testify.
In Kigali, the organization has helped prepare witnesses for testimony in over 150 landmark legal cases. AVEGA is now teaching widows and orphans about land law as well. It has built houses for many widows and orphans, and has provided about 13,000 AVEGA members with shelter. Women had no inheritance rights before the genocide. AVEGA pushed for reform, lobbying lawmakers, judges and journalists until a law was passed in November 1999 that allowed widows the right the inherit a husband’s property.
More recently, AVEGA’s advocacy played a pivotal role in securing the introduction of Rwanda’s first Gender Based Violence Law, enacted in 2009. AVEGA has also helped women become involved in income-generating activities, such as business projects, farming, basket-weaving and other handicraft. Garments produced on modern tailoring machines are now marketed worldwide.
AVEGA received the Gruber Foundation Prize for Women’s Rights in 2011.
To learn more about the work of AVEGA, please read the AVEGA Annual Report 2010
To learn more about AVEGA’s history, please read AVEGA Achievements 1995-2010