During the 1994 genocide, women experienced horrific acts of violence.Many Tutsi women were killed, raped, and forced to witness the murder of their children. The psychological wounds from these events are deep-seeded and difficult to overcome. Watch the following video to learn about the story of one woman who became pregnant and HIV positive after she was raped in 1994.
Rwandan women showcased immense strength after the genocide. They had to; according to NPR the population became 70% women post-genocide. In the NPR article, "It's The No. 1 Country For Women In Politics — But Not In Daily Life", Gregory Warner writes about the change in population makeup in post-genocide Rwanda.
Records show that immediately following the genocide, Rwanda's population of 5.5 million to 6 million was 60 to 70 percent female. Most of these women had never been educated or raised with the expectations of a career. In pre-genocide Rwanda, it was almost unheard of for women to own land or take a job outside the home.Just because the workplace opened up, that did not mean society accepted this change. President Kagame was the main advocate for the inclusion of women, especially in politics. The feminist movement in Rwanda came from the top down; government policy tried to shift the public's opinion on the subject. This was unusual, as feminist movements generally start at the grassroots level, gain public support, then enact change on the legislative level. As a result, women gained power and were celebrated publicly. However, this newfound respect did not carry over to their private lives, as they were still expected to take care of their husband's needs, raise children, and complete all the household chores.
The genocide changed all that. The war led to Rwanda's "Rosie the Riveter" moment: It opened the workplace to Rwandan women just as World War II had opened it to American women.
Though there are still issues regarding women's rights, their inclusion in the workplace and government has come with many benefits. National Geographic's Rama Abouzeid writes about the advancement of Rwandan women post-genocide in her article, "Remaking Rwanda: Tragedy and necessity have created opportunities that seemed unimaginable. The challenge now: to make them last". She writes:
Rwandan women also took on the endeavor of reconciliation, which included jail time and community service for perpetrators, support groups, workshops, and memorials. These actions helped Rwanda heal and come together as a country. Hear from a woman about her experience reconciling with her perpetrator in the following clip.
In 1999, overturning tradition, women officially were allowed to inherit property in the absence of a will, making landowners of rural daughters who'd been disenfranchised in favor of their brothers. Other reforms enabled women to use their land as collateral to obtain loans. Women were granted the right to open bank accounts without their husband's permission, further encouraging financial independence. Girls' education was prioritized through efforts that allowed more of them to attend college, and incentives were created for girls to study traditionally male-dominated subjects.
Rwanda has moved from a nation that treated women like property, whose chief function was to have children, to one that
constitutionally mandates that at least 30 percent of government positions are occupied by women. Since 2003 Rwanda has consistently had the highest female representation, proportionally, of parliamentarians in the world--currently 61 percent in the lower house. Four of the nation's seven supreme court justices are women, including the deputy chief justice.
Many children were orphaned by the genocide, and some were adopted and brought to other countries. It was difficult for them to work through the psychological effects of their experiences without the support of other Rwandans. They did not get to benefit from the reconciliation efforts of the Rwandan government. The following clip shares how one woman experienced post-genocide psychological pain outside of Rwanda.