The genocide of 1994 left Rwanda stripped of social, economic, and political institutions. In the wake of the massacres, women rose above the conflict – rebuilding a nation through reconciliation and tenacious resolve.
During the genocide, sexual violence was widespread and caused high levels of HIV and thousands of children born out of rape. Women made up 70% of the surviving population and responded to the need around them. A national adoption program was created, helping communities to heal by placing children orphaned by the genocide within families, disregarding the Hutu-Tutsi division. A transitional justice process was established, with community-based Gacaca courts providing for a truth and reconciliation process to occur.
In 2003, it became constitutionally required for women to hold 30% of government positions. Today, Rwandan women represent two-thirds of Parliament. Despite these strong laws and policy mechanisms, a 2010 report by the Rwandan Gender Monitoring Office recognizes gender equality “has not fully trickled down to the grassroots level”. 60% of Rwandans still live below the international poverty line. Reports from Kigali express the hardship of women experiencing gendered violence in local slums.
Outside the realm of politics, women have collaborated through many innovative cooperatives to promote economic empowerment, agricultural knowledge, leadership skills, and child development centres. The Forum for African Women Educationalists, which opened in 1999, equips women for technical careers, breaking out of traditional roles. Education has played a large part in removing community barriers, regardless of a child’s heritage.
Members of Nobel Women’s Delegation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda, paying tribute to 20th anniversary of the conflict. They also met with Godelieve Mukasarasi – founder of Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA). Like many partners in Rwanda, she has spent the decades since the genocide mobilizing women towards peace and reconciliation.
The strong, capable work of Rwandan women speaks for itself. Their efforts are not significant because of their gender, but because of their bold ambition and the international precedent they have set.
— Ambassador Swanee Hunt, Founder and Chair, Institute for Inclusive Security, and Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School