Today marks 22 years since over one million Rwandans were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The tragedy has been described as the worst and most gruesome in modern history.
During the Genocide, women were subjected to massive sexual violence and more than two decades later, the scars left by the Genocide are yet to heal.
Devota Nirere (not real names) was only twelve years old when the Genocide began. She recalls how one by one, her family members were killed and the horrific murders still give her nightmares.
“When the killings began, everyone in my family tried to flee for dear life… that was the last I ever saw any of my family members. I was defiled and beaten by Interahamwe gangs until I started wishing for death to come and take me,” Nirere sadly recalls.
Even with all the horror stories that she has to tell, Nirere was one of the survivors when the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) finally stopped the killings. Through counseling and prayers, Nirere has moved on with her life and today, she has her own family and she owns a small business.
Although the exact number of women raped isn’t known, rape was exceedingly used as a torture tool during the Genocide. Thousands of women were gang-raped or subjected to sexual slavery. Even after the torture, many were murdered in the most barbaric ways ever recorded in human history.
However, much as the Genocide robbed women of everything, women survivors haven’t given up. They have instead picked up the pieces and are trying to rebuild their lives.
Honorine Uwababyeyi, runs the ‘Peace and Hope Foundation’, an organisation that helps Genocide victims who were sexually violated. She says that the women genocide survivors have managed to rise up over the years, have gained confidence to take up leadership positions, ventured in entrepreneurship and are contributing towards the security of the country as serving officers and men in the national police and the army, among others.
“Although the government of Rwanda has done a tremendous job of bringing peace and encouraging unity and reconciliation, the effects of Genocide can never be completely erased. Even though the effects are still there, our nation is developing and we are thankful that there has been improvement in the social wellbeing of the survivors,” Uwababyeyi says.
Uwababyeyi says that Rwandans should join hands to offer help to the victims in every way possible.
Eric Mahoro, the Director of Programmes at ‘Never Again Rwanda’ says that compared to the past, the current situation has tremendously improved.
He points out that people can now open up and share their feelings about the past and are working together to rebuild the country.
“There has been success in terms of the post Genocide recovery in the country, many people are involved and this time, we have people from all sectors; scholars, politicians and the international community,” Mahoro says.
He further explains that as an organisation working with young people, ‘Never Again Rwanda’ focuses on consistently sharing the truth which encourages people to share facts about Rwandan history and recovery from the effects of the Genocide against the Tutsi to fight Genocide denial and ideology.
“Locally, we are trying to provide space so that people can openly discuss what happened because denial and distortion of the truth are what follow the genocide itself,” he said
He says that for women to further recover from the long term genocide effects, they should contribute to upholding the truth and be part of the healing initiatives like the dialogue and commemoration.
“During the commemoration week, they should share stories but we should work together as Rwandans to ensure that the victims fully recover and that the genocide doesn’t happen again,” Mahoro adds.
Women applaud survivors
Denise Rwakayija is a training manager at MTN Rwanda. She applauds the strength of women survivors and that of the country at large.
“Rwanda’s resilience as a country has very strongly come through women. Seeing the jump in numbers of women in business, important positions in corporate and government offices, the inspiring transformation of rural women and their role in bringing their families out of poverty, yes, I think the Rwandan woman’s story in the post Genocide era is inspiring,” she says.
She adds that the government has done a remarkable job of empowering women, giving them a voice and encouraging them to have self- esteem.
“More initiatives geared towards this direction will see more women become self-reliant. Focusing on girl child education and access to finance is also instrumental;” she says.
Doreen Mutesi, the executive producer at ‘Rise and Shine Rwanda’ also echoes similar views that the women in Rwanda have progressed in all spheres of life over the last two decades.
“Looking at how women have managed to start their own small businesses, stepping up to provide for their families after all that they went through is indeed courageous and I respect them for that,” she says.
She advises Rwandans to turn the tragedy into treasure by getting their testimonies out to help the rest of the world understand and use the tragedy that befell Rwanda as an opportunity to learn how best to make the world a better place.
What is the best way to help Genocide survivors?
Aline Uwimana, Unemployed.
For those who haven’t had a chance to talk to their perpetrators, they should be facilitated to meet them so that they can first of all work on forgiveness and reconciliation. Encouraging them to forgive will help them live positively. Secondly, they should be provided an environment where they don’t feel isolated.
Angelique Batamuliza, Receptionist.
For me, I believe that by engaging them in development activities like tailoring, their minds will be occupied and this will help them not to concentrate on the bad past experiences. Social support and counseling is vital too.
Claudine Umutoniwase, IT technician.
Decent houses should be built for them. There should also be profitable projects based on the respective areas of survivor’s residences. For instance, in the countryside, livestock rearing projects such as poultry can be set up for them while in the urban areas; they can join cooperatives to run various businesses.
Denyse Mukantwari, Student.
I think the best way is by offering them support such as building new houses for them. However, psycho-social support is important too as it will help them forget the past and concentrate on the present.
Compiled by Lydia Atieno