Triumph over Tragedy: The Women's Movement of Rwanda Finds Success Post-Genocide

By Marissa B. Goldfaden
2010, Vol. 2 No. 01 | pg. 2/2 |

Furthermore, prior to the genocide, Rwandan boys outnumbered schoolgirls by a ratio of 9 to 1. Now boys and girls are attending schools in equal numbers, with as many as 50 percent of college students female.18 Finally, Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is the safest capital city on the entire African continent.19

While the genocide in Rwanda was certainly not the first tragedy of its kind in world history, its gendered component was unique and as such, there are lessons to be learned and comparisons to be made from this occurrence. For instance, to deal with their psychological stress, some of the women in Rwanda took to meeting in the evenings to give each other the courage to once again face the night. These meetings create a safe space in which they can express the horrors they lived through, which they would otherwise not dare to talk about due to the stigmas and taboos that often persist for sexual crimes and atrocities perpetrated against women.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, women are systematically raped and victimized, while their husbands are targeted for torture and murder. Local Congolese non-profit groups, supported with funds from larger organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC), are organizing the women of these villages to create a network of support and empowerment.20 The women that comprise these networks often meet en masse at the church, which many consider to be the only safe haven they have left. After attending services, the women stand and give testimony to what they've experienced. Their stories resonate with the power of shared trauma.

In dealing with rebuilding a country’s physical and governmental infrastructure, analysts say war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan would be wise to follow Rwanda’s lead and make women full partners as they undertake these endeavors. However, there are at least two main problems with such a recommendation. The inferior status of women in these countries appears to be far more entrenched than in pre-genocide Rwanda. Also, these wars have been going on for years and there are currently no plans to end them. Therefore, the implementation of any such suggestions would prove to be no more than an exercise in futility.

On October 31, 2000, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1325, the first resolution ever passed by the Security Council that specifically addressed the impact of war on women, and women's contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. The resolution emphasized the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls; and to exclude such crimes from any amnesty provisions. It called on all actors, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt measures to protect the rights of women and girls with respect to local laws, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary.

Largely as a result of Resolution 1325, changes have also been made at the international level: there are more women in peacekeeping missions, rules are in place to protect local communities from sexual abuse by peacekeepers, women’s groups are encouraged to participate in peace negotiations and disarmament and rehabilitation programs take into consideration female combatants and women who accompany combatants.21 The very existence of such a resolution is a positive gain, as it is indicative of changing attitudes and mindsets. While it is not enough to ensure the safety of women, it is a step in the right direction and can pave the way for similar legislation and enforcement throughout the world.

It is impossible to predict what would have happened to the women’s movement in Rwanda if the genocide had never occurred. Such events irreversibly change the landscape of the human experience. Following the Holocaust and WWII, the Jewish population of Europe was decimated and never fully recovered. Though there are still Jewish communities throughout Europe today, the numbers never reached the level they were at prior to the rise of the Nazi regime. But in Rwanda, there was nowhere to flee after the genocide. Various African nations are rife with conflict and populations of refugees and internally displaced persons are a contributing factor to the destabilization of a given country. The women’s movement in Rwanda was persistent and successful due to a combination of choice and chance. While one would hope that what befell Rwanda will never happen again, the example that the women in Rwanda have set is one that can and should be heeded by the entirety of the international community.


References

1. CIA World Factbook, Rwanda, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rw.html

2. United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues

And Advancement of Women (OSAGI), Expert Group Meeting on

"Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes in Post-Conflict Countries", January 2004, Strengthening Governance: The Role of Women in Rwanda’s Transition, prepared by Elizabeth Powley, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/meetings/2004/EGMelectoral/EP5-Powley.PDF

3. Women Take Lead in Reconstruction of Rwanda, Jodi Enda, November 16, 2003, http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/1602/context/cover/

4. Human Security and Reconstruction Efforts in Rwanda: Impact on the Lives of Women, Myriam Gervais, Development in Practice, ISSN 0961-4524, Online ISSN: 1364-9213

5. Rwanda: The Impact of Women On Policy Formulation, Eleneus Akanga, The New Times (Kigali), Source: allAfrica.com, February 4, 2007, http://www.whrnet.org/docs/issue-rwanda-0702.html

6. Women in Reconstruction: Rwanda Promotes Women Decision-makers, Consuelo Remmert, UN Chronicle online edition, http://www.un.org/Pubs/chronicle/2003/issue4/0403p25.asp

7. Women, War, and Transition, Judy El-Bushra and Cecile Mukarubuga, Gender and Development, Volume 3, Number 3, October 1995, pp. 16-22

8. Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, Human Rights Watch Africa, September 1996, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm

9. Women Taking a Lead, Progress Toward Empowerment and Gender Equity in Rwanda, Women for Women International Briefing Paper, September 2004, http://www.peacewomen.org/resources/Rwanda/WWLead2004.pdf

10. Women of Rwanda Face Life After the Genocide, Bruce Greenberg, November 2004, International Information Programs, http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/Archive/2004/Nov/23-527989.html

11. Rwanda’s Comeback, The Christian Science Monitor, Gerard DeGroot, 4/28/2008, http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0428/p09s01-coop.html

12. Raping the Congo, Kevin Sites, October 2005, http://hotzone.yahoo.com/b/hotzone/blogs1152

13. Lessons from Rwanda, the United Nations and the Prevention of Genocide, http://www.un.org/preventgenocide/rwanda/backgrounder.shtml


1.) The Hutu are a Central African ethnic group, living mainly in Rwanda and Burundi. 84% of Rwandans and 85% of Burundians are Hutu. (source: CIA World Factbook)

2.) Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, Human Rights Watch, September 1996, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1996/Rwanda.htm

3.) ibid., HRW

4.) Women Taking a Lead: Progress Toward Empowerment and Gender Equity in Rwanda, Women for Women International Briefing Paper, September 2004, http://www.peacewomen.org/resources/Rwanda/WWLead2004.pdf

5.) ibid. Women Taking a Lead

6.) ibid., Women Taking a Lead

7.) ibid.

8.) Women, War, and Transition, Judy El-Bushra and Cecile Mukarubuga, Gender Development Journal

9.) ibid., El-Bushra

10.) Strengthening Governance: The Role of Women in Rwanda’s Transition, Elizabeth Powley, United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues And Advancement of Women, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/meetings/2004/EGMelectoral/EP5-Powley.PDF

11.) ibid., Strengthening Governance

12.) ibid., Strengthening Governance

13.) Women in Reconstruction, Rwanda Promotes Women Decision-makers, Consuelo Remmert, UN Chronicle online edition, http://www.un.org/pubs/chronicle/2003/issue4/0403p25.asp

14.) ibid., Strengthening Governance

15.) ibid.

16.) ibid., Women in Reconstruction

17.) ibid., Strengthening Governance

18.) Women of Rwanda Face Life After Genocide, Bruce Greenberg, International Information Programs, http://usinfo.state.gov/dhr/Archive/2004/Nov/23-527989.html

19.) Rwanda’s Comeback, The Christian Science Monitor, Gerard DeGroot, 4/28/2008, http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0428/p09s01-coop.html

20.) Raping the Congo, Kevin Sites, October 2005, http://hotzone.yahoo.com/b/hotzone/blogs1152

21.) Lessons from Rwanda, the United Nations and the Prevention of Genocide, http://www.un.org/preventgenocide/rwanda/backgrounder.shtml

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