Rwanda Revisited

In an ongoing effort to raise awareness about the impact of war and genocide related violence against women on civil society, I thought to pass on these stats from women working actively with the state to change them:

  • 2935 rape cases were committed against children in Rwanda in 2007 (police stats on sexual abuse)
  • 25% of female victims were subject to either physical or psychological violence as well

These statistics, presented by The Minister of Gender and Family Promotion Mujawamariya at conference in April, speak to an overall shift in safety standards for women pre-genocide to now.

The impact of witnessing violence on children, regardless of nation, is well-documented. All though conclusions as to the number of child witnesses that go on to be perpetrators is disputed, the correlation between the two events is not. If we consider the number of children who were either witnesses or forced perpetrators of violence against women who are now adult survivors of conflict, these statistics provide an alarming warning about women’s safety.

The global inequality between men and women and the sexual availability/inferiority it implies added to the culture of violence that is created as an extension in war time dramatically shifts traditional modes of acceptability in the treatment of women. As conflict zones increase across the globe, and reports of sexualized-physical and sexual violence against women becomes public and regularized, the issue of how to  establish positions of strength and safety for women should be central. We need to develop more far reaching theory and practice around violence against women both in and outside of war and we need to do it not from a position of imperialism or “special period” but rather led by, in conversation with, and in solidarity with the women most affected.

As reported on the blog earlier, there are several women’s groups, run and supported by Rwandan women, who are working to articulate both the particularities of the Rwandan experience and to provide paths to healing. These organizations not only deal with violence but also with female empowerment and equality.

Minister Mujawamariya has called for better tracking and intervention. She has worked to rally both Rwandan feminists and international ones. The UN has also established one of a handful of sexual violence and war branches in Rwanda as support.

As I interact with those for whom violence and condescension are always the first choice when relating to women, I wonder how different the discourse, perhaps even the world, would be if we had made these connections long ago. This is not to say that feminists have failed to write about violence in far reaching ways or that we do not have people whose specialized field is war and the status of women (comfort women, war related trafficking, base related sex work, etc.) but that the knowledge seems to remain specialized and isolated to the particular realms it addresses instead of a larger discourse of women’s safety and position in societies. The separate spheres of “war” and “home” both some how outside of the normal societal controls over public accountability and the equally erroneous divisions between “us” and “them” or “the west” and “the rest” have wrapped survivors up in issues of particularity and otherness that prevent us from seeing how these things are all modifications of the same system.

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