On June 26, 2017, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) held an event titled “Women Guiding Peace After War: Lessons from Rwanda.” The panel discussed the incredible progress women have made since the 1994 genocide. In the twenty-three years since the Rwandan genocide, women have become the majority in parliament, holding 64% of all positions. A variety of perspectives on the genocide and on the incredible resilience and forgiveness of Rwandan women during and afterwards made for an informative and impactful event.
Ambassador Swanee Hunt, author of Rwandan Women Rising, started off by detailing the progress women have made in gaining political representation, somehow gaining more and more seats in parliament despite predictions to the contrary. She then told a touching story of a woman who took in her son’s killer and treated him like a son, even leaving him her house and inheritance once she died. Hunt focused on the idea of women feeling like they owed something because they survived, and repaying that debt by working to heal the country.
Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, then told her story. As a 14-year-old, Nishimwe’s father and younger brothers were killed and she was drugged and raped. Despite the horrors she endured, Nishimwe offered a positive message, praising her mother’s strength and ability to be there for others in spite of her own suffering. She says that because of women like her mother, women who show love and kindness despite their pain, the country has been able to heal.
Ambassador George E. Moose, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs during the genocide, and Susan Stigant, the Director of Africa Programs at USIP, then commented further on how resilient, forgiving, strong women emerged from the tragedy. They called it proof of the good in human nature when all other evidence was to the contrary.
Our focus campaigns at Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) include Women’s Empowerment and Restorative Justice. The women of Rwanda have shown what progress a nation can make when women have a voice. Our Women’s Empowerment Project helps women gain a voice so they can wear down the structures of oppression and poverty that keep them and their communities from prospering. Our Restorative Justice Project works to promote non-adversarial justice through truth-telling, which leads to healing of the affected persons and their communities. The Rwandan women’s capability to acknowledge the atrocities then forgive those who committed them is a practice we commend. We know that the road to full healing of the Rwandan society is incomplete and encourage every Rwandan and all people of goodwill to support their ongoing process of recovery. The seemingly improbable progress Rwandan women have made for themselves and their country is a truly remarkable show of the power of empowered women.
Written by Yashi Gunawardena