Women and Conflict in Rwanda
Women are called nya-upinga in Rwanda, which means haven of peace. Ethnic affiliation is passed down through men, and women are not considered as belonging to any ethnic group since they are free to marry anyone and live in a family from any ethnic group.
Contrary to the custom whereby women were considered as being at the heart of a household and even capable of stopping conflict between two men, women experienced the worst kind of atrocity and torture during the genocide in 1994.
They were subjected to violence and humiliation. They witnessed the death of their loved ones and were then raped by their executioners. They were forced to endure all kinds of sexual cruelty, of being raped by a son, a brother, or a father before witnessing the execution of these family members or being killed themselves.
The Rwandan Government says 30% of girls and young women in Rwanda (ages 13 to 35) were victims of sexual attack during the genocide, with between 300,000 and 500,000 rapes during that time. Some women killed mothers and children. Others collaborated in the rape of other women and girls and sometimes ordered the mutilation of sexual organs. More than 5,500 women are held in prison for their role in the genocide.
The war and genocide massacres mainly cost the lives of men and male children, leaving many widows, often traumatized, as heads of households. Many of them were saved after having been gang-raped and are physically or mentally handicapped by what they suffered. At present, 34% of households are headed by women.
The events of the genocide have psychologically affected many women, and in a particularly cruel way through rape, a favourite weapon of the perpetrators of the genocide.
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