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SV against women

An Appraisal of Rwanda's Response to Survivors Who Experienced Sexual Violence in 1994


Nagarajan, Chitra. 2012. "An Appraisal of Rwanda's Response to Survivors Who Experienced Sexual Violence in 1994." Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies 10: 108-31.

Author: Chitra Nagarajan


Over a million people were killed in 1994 during Rwanda's genocide and war, with many women compelled to 'offer' sex, raped, held in collective or individual sexual slavery and mutilated. An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 women still alive were raped between 1990 and 1994, 30 000 pregnancies resulted from rape and the 67% of survivors considered HIV positive continue to suffer the consequences of wartime sexual violence (Wells, 2004-2005). Countless women now live with serious illnesses, pain or injury, unable to provide for families. The level of trauma is severe, compounded by shame, exclusion, stigma, survivor's guilt and contested feelings towards the children of bad memories born of rape and as many perpetrators were neighbours who often live nearby. Despite commitment to the rights of women and recognition of the prevalence of rape during the genocide, the Rwandese government has been slow to offer legal redress, medical treatment and counselling and has not prioritized prosecution and punishment. Conviction rates are low. Reparations are not forthcoming. Neither the national courts nor the gacaca, have investigated and prosecuted these cases in a fitting manner. Although attention has been paid to sexual violence, defects in the drafting of statutory law and its implementation discourage reporting, investigation and prosecution. Recent procedural revisions dismiss very real fears around fair trail, public ridicule, and increased trauma.  Difficulties in addressing the legacies and widespread nature of sexual violence are being overlooked as the government prioritizes the construction of a sense of nationhood and continuation of its own power over the needs of survivors. The result is that many women, infected with HIV or with other serious illnesses, are slowly dying without reparation, healthcare, counselling or seeing perpetrators brought to justice.


"Survivors of RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] sexual violence are not recognised as the government refuses to acknowledge the scale of atrocities committed by its forces, claiming Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) soldiers committed only isolated instances of rape and other war crimes." (109)
"By the time the genocide was halted by the RPA, only 200 000 of Rwanda’s 1 million Tutsis remained alive." (110)
"The government has pledged to remedy traditional exclusion and repression of women and worked closely with activists to pass laws reforming succession regimes to allow women to inherit land and property and legislation on gender-based violence. Activists are initiating legal change and closing the distance between law and reality, however change in attitude and culture is slow. Gendered social and cultural attitudes have great influence. Cultural barriers preventing women from expressing themselves in public remain powerful. Domestic violence is common, de facto polygamy is on the rise due to imbalanced numbers of women and men and the punishment for adultery is harsher for women than for men. Although 40% of judges in Rwanda are women, female share of real power beyond an urban elite remains small. There is continued preference for sending boys to school as well as the poverty that drives parents to arrange early marriage and girls to engage in transactional sex (Morel-Seytoux & Lalonde, 2002). However, there does seem to be general acceptance that culture regarding women needs to be transformed." (112)
"Rwandese society forces rape experiences into silence, blaming victims and ostracising them as the dishonoured property of male relatives. Incited by ethnic and gender stereotypes that Tutsi women were made for sexuality and beauty, sexual torture was the norm rather than the exception during the genocide with thousands raped, gang raped, raped with sharpened sticks, bottles and gun barrels, held in collective or individual sexual slavery and sexually mutilated with machetes, knives, sticks, boiling water or acid. Although many were killed immediately, others were allowed to live to give birth to babies of the enemy or die protracted deaths." (114-115)
"Survivor organisations consider the genocide to have continued long afterwards with women infected by HIV considered ‘the living dead.’ The level of trauma is severe, compounded by shame, exclusion, survivor’s guilt and the fact that many rapists were neighbours who still live nearby. Rape is equated with adultery and survivors are often perceived as collaborators who traded sexual favours for survival while families were murdered. With rape considered to render women unsuitable for marriage, many families hide the rape of daughters. In some cases survivors are despised: ‘the neighbours make fun of us. It would be better if I moved to a place where no one knows me and where they aren’t interested in me’ (African Rights, 2004, p. 5). Many women have left their homes hoping for anonymity." (115)
"The government turned to a local form of dispute resolution to make guilt/innocence determinations. Previously a mechanism whereby perpetrator and victim and their families would, facilitated by family or community elders, come to agreement about the best way to remedy harm caused by mostly property crimes, gacaca was revised, formalised and institutionalised to form gacaca jurisdictions.14 Clark (2007, p. 58) emphasises ‘the spirit of gacaca enshrines local actors as the most crucial participants in the search for internal solutions to internal problems,’ with the entire community debating the root causes of conflict while punishing perpetrators." (116)
"These survivors of sexual violence do not even have the crimes perpetrated against them recognised and acknowledged as such. Further, 82% of survivors say they feel threatened during the process with insecurity voiced particularly by female survivors (NURC, 2008). Indeed there have been reports of survivors threatened and murdered." (117)
"However, the two tiered system combined the inadequacies of both for survivors: problems of accessing national courts and fear of experiences considered shameful becoming community knowledge. Although the law gives rape victims the opportunity to give testimony to the gacaca judge of their choice in camera, many women did not know of this option and viewed the process as a public one that exposes them to stigma and public ridicule. Moreover, requests to testify in camera give rise to assumptions of having been raped. In 2002, 60% of survivors predicted women would testify less than men and they all believed families would prevent young girls from  testifying about sexual violence (Wells, 2004-2005). In some cases, confessions at gacaca have identified victims of sexual violence who then suffer from ignominy." (118)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2012

Refugees, Forced Displacement, and War


Bennett, Trude, Linda Barlett, Oluwasayo Adewumi Olatunde, and Lynn Amowitz. 2004. “Refugees, Forced Displacement, and War.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 10 (11): 2034-35.

Authors: Trude Bennett, Linda Barlett, Oluwasayo Adewumi Olatunde, Lynn Amowitz


Women make up high proportions of refugee and internally displaced populations, and they suffer unique consequences of war and conflict because of gender-based violence, discrimination, and caretaking roles.  Refugee women are especially vulnerable to infectious disease, as well as threats to their mental health and physical safety.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Displacement & Migration, Forced Migration, IDPs, Refugees, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Mental Health, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2004

'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo


Kelly, Jocelyn, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcayna-Stevens, Sadia Haider, and Michael J. Vanrooyen. 2012. "'If Your Husband Doesn't Humiliate You, Other People Won't: Gendered Attitudes towards Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Global Public Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy, and Practice 7 (3): 285-98.

Authors: Jocelyn Kelly, Justin Kabanga, Will Cragin, Lys Alcanya-Stevens, Sadia Haider, Michael J. Vanrooyen


More than a decade of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has resulted in extensive human rights abuses, of which sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one of the most salient and disturbing features. This paper uses qualitative data, based on 10 focus groups with 86 women and men to better understand gendered community perspectives on SGBV and its consequences in South Kivu. We conclude that for many survivors, rape has consequences far beyond the physiological and psychological trauma associated with the attack. Respondents saysexual violence has become a societal phenomenon, in which the community isolation and shame experienced as a result of the attack become as important as concerns about the attack itself. Male focus group participants explain their own feelings of shame and anger associated with knowing their female relatives were raped. These findings highlight the complexity of community reintegration for survivors and identify a number of programmatic and policy implications, such as the need for counselling for survivors of sexual violence with their families as well as individually; the importance of income-generating training; and the need for improved justice mechanisms to bring perpetrators to justice.

Keywords: sexual violence, conflict, Stigma, rape, focus groups, qualitative research


“Participants also suggested that rape has become a norm for many men who have grown up in the recent decade of intense fighting.  Men and women spontaneously noted that Congolese men were increasingly prone to raping.” (289)

“Indeed, some male participants in the focus group interviews suggested that women might 'provoke' rape by wearing revealing clothes, travelling at night, or being far from their community. The majority of focus group participants agreed that women were not to blame for being raped, although they nonetheless recognised that blame of the rape victim was the basis for many of the negative community reactions of rejection and stigmatisation.” (290)

"Women described gossip has being particularly hurtful and making a significant contribution to community stigma." (290)

“Two female focus group respondents noted that their communities did help them by taking them to the hospital and counselling them.” (290)

“Men seemed less likely to reject a female relative, such as a sister or daughter, who had been raped compared with a wife. When asked about the reason for the difference in men's reactions, participants noted that male relatives may truly love the victim because of their 'consanguinity,' while the husband may only see his wife as a burden once she has been raped -- particularly if she has suffered debilitating injuries.” (291)

“Men's narratives repeatedly brought up HIV/AIDS as the reason a man 'must' reject his wife….'how can you feed yourself spoiled food?'” (291)

“Other reasons cited by participants for a husband's rejection of his wife after rape were: reluctance to raise children born of rape and pressure from his family to leave his wife.” (291)

"Female rape survivors who tested negative for STIs and HIV were considered potential candidates for reintegration into their communities and families." (291)

“Participants from the men's groups emphasised that husbands of women who have been raped experience stigma and haya [shame] too. While men were quick to acknowledge women's suffering, they also repeatedly stated that they were also affected.  As one participant put it, ‘You can't live with that woman because sometimes when those aggressors come they will tie you and give you a torch to help them have light while they are raping your wife.’” (291)

“Men also stated their inability to defend women from rape is traumatic.  This inability to protect one's wife can lead not only to shame and stigmatisation in the community, but to discord in the home….‘The husband will lose his power in the family because the wife will be implying that he is weak and unable to protect her.’” (291)

“Women stressed how important the relationship with their husbands is in determining the community's response to rape.  Another explained, ‘They can also help [survivors] to get respected from other people, because if your husband doesn't humiliate you, other people won't.’” (291)

“Women from the focus groups emphasised that certain customs that traditionally were directed towards female adulterers were now being applied to victims of rape.” (293)

“When asked what the major problems were upon returning home after being raped, women in the focus groups repeatedly spoke of restricted access to their fields; lack of income-generating activities and access to markets; and not enough money to feed or send their children to school.” (293)

“Women saw their increasingly impoverished state as a result of rape….Men, however, saw property as a key reason rape is so widespread.” (293)

“When asked about how communities could come to terms with how to respond to rape, participants stressed education and religion as potentially effective interventions.” (293)

“Women are the driving force behind the subsistence economy of South Kivu, which is based on farming and livestock. These findings suggest that the fear of rape, and the isolation of women from their families and farms as a result of rejection, may have a significant economic impact on individuals, families, and communities.” (295)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Year: 2012

Rape, Love and War - Personal or Political?


Ericsson, Kjersti. 2011. "Rape, Love and WarPersonal or Political?" Theoretical Criminology 15 (1): 67-82.

Author: Kjersti Ericsson


This article discusses how war rapes and consensual sexual relationships with enemy soldiers are framed and understood, with special emphasis on the consequences for the women involved. It [examines] war rapes in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Balkan war and Danish and Norwegian women's sexual relationships with German occupant soldiers during the Second World War. I argue that the conception of women's sexuality as national property is central to understanding the attitudes towards both categories of women. To preserve their dignity, war rape victims may profit from a collective, political discourse. Women having had consensual relationships [with] enemy soldiers, however, have to extricate themselves from the collective and political discourse and interpret what happened to them as strictly personal.

Keywords: war rape, coping strategies, nation, sexuality, victim


Uses empirical research that has been done in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway (latter countries in the post-WWII era). (Ericsson 67-70)


"Rape used as a weapon of war demonstrates that women in one sense are objects of men's transactions in this context: they are not violated as individual women, but as the nation's women: the attack on their sexuality is an affront to the national collective of men." (71)

"Despite this, not even war rape victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina could escape the suspicion that they might have been implicated in their own violation." (73)

"The stories of the Norwegian war children make one wonder: how will the mothers of children conceived through war rapes deal with questions from their sons and daughters when they want to know who their father is?" (76)

"To put it very shortly: relief for the rape victims lies in framing themselves as part of the collective, while for someone with consensual relations it lies in framing themselves as individuals." (77)

"Skjelsbæk mentions a fatwa issued by the imam of Sarajevo in 1994, a fatwa that both she and several of her interviewees deem very important.  In the fatwa, the imam declared that Bosnian women who had been subjected to sexual violence ought to be looked upon as war heroes.  The message that war rape victims were to be considered war heroes, and not least the source of this message, a religious authority, made this alternative conception a possible resource, both to individual women that had experienced rape, and for therapeutic work with rape victims." (77)

"On the other hand, if rape is understood mainly in a gendered frame of reference, the woman feels her female identity as damaged, and shame, guilt, and silence is the result." (78)

"However, if solidarity with raped women is made contingent upon a strong identification with the ethnic group, the woman as an autonomous individual may be seen as less important.  Even if the rape victim, through the ethnic interpretation, may escape being constructed as a woman of questionable morals, or as 'damaged goods' as Skjelsbæk  points out, other aspects of patriarchal patterns may nevertheless assert themselves….Some of the health workers interviewed by Skjelsbæk  also feel that there has been an increase in violence against women in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina.  If this holds true, it fits with a conception of woman's body belonging to her ethnic or national group in the patriarchal sense, an ownership that is threatened in war and may have to be reinforced in post-war times.  If there has really been a backlash, this may perhaps be a manifestation of the sinister side of the notion linking a woman's body very strongly to her ethnic group." (79)


Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Ethnicity, Gender, Gendered Power Relations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Security, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women, Sexuality Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe, Nordic states, Northern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Denmark, Norway

Year: 2011

Gender, Conflict, and Development


Bouta, Tsjeard, Georg Frerks, and Ian Bannon. 2005. Gender, Conflict, and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Authors: Tsjeard Bouta, Georg Frerks, Ian Bannon


Gender, Conflict, and Development was written as an effort to fill a gap between the Bank's work on gender mainstreaming and its agenda in conflict and development. The authors identify a link between gender and conflict issues and provide the most comprehensive review of external and internal sources on gender and conflict, with a particular focus on policy relevance for an institution such as the Bank. The book highlights the gender dimensions of conflict, organized around major relevant themes such as female combatants, sexual violence, formal and informal peace processes, the legal framework, work, the rehabilitation of social services and community-driven development. And for each theme it analyzes how conflict changes gender roles and the policy options that might be considered to build on positive aspects while minimizing adverse changes. The suggested policy options and approaches aim to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by violent conflict to encourage change and build more inclusive and gender balanced social, economic and political relations in post-conflict societies. The book concludes by identifying some of the remaining challenges and themes that require additional analysis and research. The book will be of interest to policymakers, scholars, researchers, graduate and upper-level undergraduate students of conflict studies/regional studies/gender studies. (Amazon)

Keywords: female combatants, gender mainstreaming

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Society, Combatants, Female Combatants, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, Livelihoods, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2005

Fighting the Silence: Sexual Violence Against Women in the Congo


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