“Deogratias” and the Portrayal of Rwandan Women During the Genocide

Deogratias tells the story of a young man whose life is devastated and ultimately destroyed by the genocide in Rwanda. The pain and suffering so clearly illustrated on the pages of the graphic novel allow readers to catch a glimpse of life during a horrific period in Rwanda’s history. The story centers around Deogratias, a Hutu boy who experiences flashbacks to a time before the outbreak of violence. Part of the story is light, giving the reader an idea of everyday life in Rwanda. Although prejudice is present prior to the genocide, it is somewhat controlled and does not cause insurmountable barriers until the President, Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu is assassinated. This event spurs a bloody one-sided battle, in which the Hutu majority attempts to completely obliterate the Tutsi ethnic group.

Deogratias’ story reveals the terror that the Interahamwe strike into the hearts of not only the Tutsis, but also those Hutus who resist the movement. Deogratias, who has a special relationship with two Tutsi sisters, Apollinaria and Benina, is one of those Hutus. The story makes a number of sexual references, with part of Deogratias romantic life being a central plot. He engages in romance with both Apollinaria and Benina, something that comes back to haunt him when the Interahamwe gain power.

Although the text sheds a dark light on Rwanda’s past, it sheds an even darker light on the treatment of Rwandan women. Throughout the text, women’s roles are clearly defined as inferior to those of men. The women are viewed as sexual objects from the very first pages. Apollinaria and Benina are, primarily, just love interests for Deogratias. Similarly, their mother, Venetia is depicted as an overtly sexual woman with loose morals. The female characters Stassen picks to portray in his graphic novel tarnishes it, perpetuating stereotypes about women. He shows Venetia using her sexuality to earn favors and grossly highlights the gender differences in Rwandan society. Although this may be an accurate portrayal of the way women were (and are) treated in many parts of the world, Stassen makes a point of sexualizing the women.

When the Interahamwe begin murdering the Tutsi, Stassen demonstrates the way women were treated in the course of the mass killing. Based on the graphic drawings, it can be assumed that Venetia is brutally raped and murdered by the Hutu. The Hutus heckle Apollinaria and Benina, calling them “little whores,” and taunting Deogratias about his relationship with the two girls. Contrary to what Meredeth Turshen argues in her article, “The Political Economy of Rape,” the Interahamwe do not seem to target the women for their productive or reproductive purposes. Rape is a method in which the Hutu humiliate not only the women themselves, but also Deogratias, who is reluctant to join the Interahamwe. Rape is simply another means for the Interahamwe to show their strength and power. The Hutu are not trying to wrest personal assets from the women they rape. The brutal way in which the men rape and kill women seems to be solely rooted in an intense anger against and hatred for the Tutsi.

Deogratias explains and demonstrates the growth and culmination of the ethnic conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsis. Although rape and sexual violence was common during the genocide, it was not used in the same way as other conflicts. Rape was used to humiliate the women, not to take away their capabilities. It was used as a way to cruelly torture them; a way to exact revenge on a group they blamed for their troubles.

 

Works Cited

 

Stassen, Jean-Philippe. Deogratias, a Tale of Rwanda. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

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