Tag Archives: Rwanda

Changing Social Reactions Toward Instances of Sexualized Violence Against Women  

A female Emory Student was raped Tuesday, February 11th at approximately 11:45pm in the wooded area between Dowman Drive and Oxford Road next to Emory Village. Approximately two hours later, there was another report that a girl was sexually assaulted on Fraternity Row. She reported an unknown male Emory Student touching her breasts and genital areas over her clothes, putting his hands in her shirt and touching her breasts, then proceeding to put his hands under her skirt (Full Report).


My first reaction as a female Emory student taking a class on gender violence and committed to issues on justice on gender violence to these reports was “What on earth were these females doing in those locations that late at night, especially an hour or two before Atlanta’s second winter storm of the year?”  When I took a second thought to it, I realized that my reaction was the way society was taught to react—to instantaneously blame the woman.


The notion of blaming the woman is not unique to American society—it is apparent almost everywhere around the world. In Rwanda, blaming the woman was first manifested right before the genocide through the release of the 10 Hutu commandments, which targeted Tutsi women as evil conniving individuals who used their sexuality to rise up the social and financial ladder. Furthermore, during and following the genocide, victims of rape were held accountable for their experiences by their families, and subsequently abandoned. During the Bosnian war, Muslim Bosnian women and children were taken into ‘rape camps’ and following the war, someone of them were condemned by their family and consequently disowned by their husbands or their household (More information on Women Under Siege).


Why are female victims the first to be blamed for something that they most often never ask for? It is because society has enculturated us to behave accordingly. In most societies, a woman is most valuable if she is a virgin. In the US, though the perception of woman has changed widely over the last century, a woman is still looked down upon based on her sexual promiscuity. It’s fascinating how though feminist movements have succeeded closing some of the gap of gender inequality when it comes to social and financial strata, society still has been unable to close the gap of sexuality—it is considered normal for a man to sleep around a lot yet it is a complete veto for a woman to do the same.


Of course, even the mention of a woman’s sexuality is ingrained in our minds as a taboo by society. However, to achieve true equality, feminists should opt to focus on it. They have indeed taken huge steps in this movement already advanced in it—victims are no longer keeping their traumatic experiences to themselves and are now reporting their cases, as illustrated with the cases above. Women, whether victims, or bystanders, are beginning to condemn, subtle or blatant acts that are evidently a violation to a woman.


Now, the next step in the feminist movement should be to break the norm of subconsciously blaming the female victim.Women—whether western, African or East European—can unfortunately be among the greatest critics of female sexuality. We are quick to judge the victim on why she was at wrong place at the wrong time, or on how her demeanor or her way of dressing led to her experience. The general safety tips concerning sexualized violence are always aimed toward women—tips such as never walking alone, avoiding poorly lit areas, walking with a partner of group after dark etc. It is time that we, as feminists, stop limiting our dialogue concerning safety precautions to our own circles, but to the entire community especially when it comes to sexualized violence—that is men, and most importantly, the bystander.

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Rape in Wartimes vs. Rape on Campus–Are They Comparable? 

It was once assumed that rape was committed as a result of sexual desire. Recent scholarship however shows that rape has a greater significance—it is used as a weapon of war. Though the international recognition of systematic sexualized violence against women during wartime as a crime against humanity has been a great advancement in the feminist movement, people should also focus on the rape during the peacetime, for example on campuses. What differences are there in the motives of rape in wartimes in comparison to rapes on everyday college campuses? It is important to highlight the functions of rape specifically in wartime before indulging its similarities with cases on college campuses.


Perpetrators in wartime use rape to humiliate the enemy. For example, during the Rwandan Genocide, the raping of Tutsi women served to symbolically devalue the Tutsi honor. In a country where the value of a woman was based on her virtue, virginity and cleanliness, a victim of rape was considered a disgrace to her family and hence the perpetrators used rape to destroy the Tutsi families and communities. Rape was also used as a method of ethnic cleansing—in the case of Rwanda, the cleansing of the entire Tutsi ethnicity. Hutu militiamen raped Tutsi women (and Hutu women married to a Tutsi man) to terminate an existing pregnancy of an enemy child, or to create a pregnancy with a Hutu child (More information on womenunderseigeproject.org).


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there was a widespread belief that raping women would give militiamen more power and invincibility (Women Under Seige). Raping also served as a method of controlling natural resources. As explained in Merideth Turshen’s paper, “The Political Economy of Rape […],” the perpetrators would take their victims as their ‘wives’ and through what she termed “bogus weddings,” the perpetrators would receive self-granted access to their victims land and resources.


The preceding reasons for rape are specific to wartime. So once again, what are the similarities between rape on college campuses and rape during conflict? Though wartime and campus life are two completely different contexts, rape occurs surprisingly for similar reasons. One main similarity is that in most cases, rape has historically been used as a systematic tool for domination and power. This is seen in David Lisak’s study and interviews on rape incidents on college campuses and how undetected rapists (college students) strategically plan out how to make a girl vulnerable in order for them to make easier sexual advances on them. Lisak argues that men, both undetected and incarcerated, rape in order to reaffirm their position in society as superior to women. Similarly in wartimes, rape is used as a way for the enemies to manifest their superiority over women, especially women affiliated with their enemies. Another important similarity is that most rapists are repeat offenders. Lisak discovered in his research that 76% of the 120 undetected rapists on campus were repeat rapists, having raped an average of 6 women. Similarly in wartimes, most of the perpetrators are repeat rapists, some of which having raped up to 10 women as seen in the case of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rape on college campuses turns out to be similar to rape during wartime in the sense that the men involved commit these crimes to assert their superiority over women. Likewise in wartimes, most rapists on college campuses are repeat offenders, and some are even unaware of it. This shows that though women have succeeded in moving up the social ladder, many men have found it difficult to digest the idea of gendered equality. Therefore, the best way to change this perception of women deeply ingrained in both men and women’s minds is through education at an early age for a person educated on gendered equality will most likely grow up regarding both sexes with equal respect.

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Looking at “Portraits of Reconciliation”

Amidst the intense horror of genocide is a painful truth: the pain and suffering doesn’t end when the violence stops. Especially in the case of Rwanda, where fighting was very personal and direct, the implications for reconciliation are slim and difficult to envision. Between the flaws in the reconciliation and punitive measures as well as the fact that many women were forced into relationships with their perpetrators, there is seemingly insurmountable suffering that impedes the society’s ability to move forward.

The New York Times Magazine recently featured a story entitled “Portraits of Reconciliation” in which Pieter Hugo, a photographer, captured images of survivors with their perpetrators. Underneath each photo, there is a short explanation from both the perpetrator and the survivor about the violence committed in the past and their path to forgiveness. All of the images capture a Hutu perpetrator and a Tutsi survivor, so this limiting of information must be noted – while this is how most of the crimes were performed, there were also Tutsi perpetrators and Hutu victims whose stories were silenced in this project.

The medium of photography allows for an emotional window into the lives of these individuals and the complexities of their relationships. While some of the pairs seem distanced, there were many who were sitting closely and some who were even touching each other. Some of them could ha been mistaken for a family photo if taken out of the context of this article. These images are definitely shocking, but there is something eerily touching about them as well. Despite the greatest of odds, these two individuals – former enemies, even – have reconciled on their own terms to begin to re-form the backbone of Rwandan society.

The individuals in these pictures are participating in a national effort towards reconciliation. The AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) offers a program to council small groups of Rwandans over many months, which concludes in the perpetrator’s request for forgiveness. Usually the perpetrator will bring offerings to their victim to accompany their verbal appeal. Through this project, it is clear that these efforts are making an impact, even if it’s only on a small scale. The magnitude of these apologies is profound; while each of these examples only includes two people, each person who is able to forgive lifts some of the burden of the genocide off of their shoulders and the bitterness out of their hearts. This is a strong move in the right direction for Rwanda’s recovery from such a disaster and their positive development in the future.

Many of the perpetrators have taken it on themselves not only to apologize, but to make up for their malicious actions by supporting and protecting their former victims long-term. A strong example of such is the case of Juvenal Nzabamwita (perpetrator) and Cansilde Kampundu (victim). Nzabamwita explains in his section how he looted Kampundu’s property and how his father was also involved in the killing of her children. Because of the education he received in jail, he recognized the importance of forgiveness as an avenue towards reconciliation and moral peace. When he came to apologize, he “told her that I would stand by her, with all the means at my disposal.” Kampundu herself explains why she forgave a man who damaged her life so greatly: “The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life – I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me?” In this instance, Kampundu chooses to forgive out of a need for security, something which she lost during the genocide. In the case of Godefroid Mudaheranwa and Evasta Mukanyandwi, there is a similar connection. When Mudaheranwa asked for forgiveness, Mukanyandwi “was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.” While these connections are motivated by exterior factors – a need for security – they attempt to replace this feeling of safety that was lost during the genocide. Even if these relationships are not entirely amicable, there is a positive impact for both sides, where the victim receives protection and the perpetrator can find peace in the forgiveness of those he hurt.

Not all of the perpetrators promise lifelong support, but in all of these selected instances the act of forgiveness seems to lift a barrier on society and between individuals. As Karorero, a survivor, explains, “Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer – cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all. When someone is full of anger, he can lose his mind. But when I granted forgiveness, I felt my mind at rest.” Perhaps, in line with this quotation, individual forgiveness can be more powerful and more effective in certain instances than formal punitive measures. As we can see from the interactions between these pairs, whether or not they feel a closeness between them, they all seem to feel “at rest” again to a degree. The AMI seems to be making large strides towards a reunited Rwanda and perhaps are offering a strong alternative to truth commissions and other more formal modes of reconciliation after large-scale tragedy and violence.


To see the pictures and for further reading on the project, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=MG_POR_20140404&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=3

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Trauma: The Question of Representation and Memorialization

After reading Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda for class, I found myself thinking about representation and memorialization of the genocide in Rwanda and other tragic events. What makes a successful representation and how do they work to memorialize what happened in Rwanda for the victims and for future genocide prevention? I hope to explore that idea here.

We have read much on the complexity of the idea of telling and issues of whether it helps or hurts in victims’ search for justice and closure. While truth-telling can be incredibly therapeutic to victims, helping them to feel liberated (to at least a certain extent) from the holds of their traumatic pasts, sharing one’s memories is a very hard thing to do, both emotionally and logistically. How does one transmit memories (especially those as awful as what happened in Rwanda) in a way that doesn’t reduce, decontextualize, or otherwise alter them? Perfect transmission is impossible. Victim’s memories deteriorate over time and, more importantly, interpretation of victims’ narratives by outsiders is inevitably altered by their unique analytical lenses. Such was the problem for Yvonne Khutwane and many others who testified at the South African TRC. Despite her diverse experience of harm during apartheid, Khutwane’s experience was reduced by the setup of the testimony interview to the point that it was only analyzed under the frame of sexual violation, an aspect of her experience she did not even intend to discuss. This reduced and decontextualized her narrative, presenting important implications for the efficacy of storytelling. Additionally, sharing one’s story can also have undesirable effects in that it often appears to consign the events to the past. Storytelling has adopted a certain character of finality, a sense that sharing stories puts the traumatic events of the past into a box that can be locked away. In this way the act of storytelling seems to imply both that victims and society have moved past the trauma and that it no longer can have an effect on the present, implications that are both problematic.

Representing a tragedy like Rwanda, as a form of such truth-telling, is hard. How does one adequately describe or portray the enormity of the horrific crimes against humanity that occurred? The only way, it seems to me, after much mulling of my thoughts on my plane ride home for break, is to present the memories of victims and the events that occurred across a wide variety of mediums and through the experiences of a wide variety of victims and onlookers. Each individual memorialization will inevitably be inadequate to the weight of what occurred, but only by creating a diverse presentation of voices and approaches can we do our best to capture and understand the broad magnitude of what happened.  Having a variety of experiences and a variety of approaches, from interviews to songs and films to paintings and murals and statues to graphic novels like Deogratias, best encourages active interpretation of the past. By challenging ourselves to think of the tragedy through a myriad of lenses in a myriad of non-reducing ways, we can best gain a nuanced understanding of the events that occurred in a way that hopefully encourages active participation in their prevention in future. With such a broad approach to memorialization, we can hope to best present the stories of victims in a non-reducing, non-finalizing way that helps them achieve justice and closure and prevents future trauma.


Works Cited

Ross, Fiona. “Narrative Threads.” Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and Reconcliation Commission in South Africa. London: Pluto, 2003. 82-102. 

Stassen, John-Phillippe. Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda. Macmillan, 2006.




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The Rwandan Genocide in Comics

Many consider comics a childhood distraction, corrupting youth towards a world of violence and superheroes. This specificity excludes a large selection of works that transcend such a narrow description, but which can still be defined as a comic. In Scott McCloud’s comic Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art, he seeks to expand the definition of comics to include Egyptian heiroglyphics, graphic novels, sequential artwork and many other sub-genres among this realm. He stresses a scholarly definition of comics as “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (9). The author intends to provoke certain reactions based on how he or she expresses the characters’ emotions and which senses are called forth from the readers.
However, comics lack objectivity and fail to produce only one clear-cut aesthetic response. Each image can elicit a variety of interpretations based on an individual reader’s background knowledge and personal opinions, as one’s culture shapes him or her to see the world in certain ways and to draw meaning from physical stimuli. As McCloud states, this phenomenon of “observing the parts but perceiving the whole” (63) is called closure. One’s social context and background heavily influence this learned process; “a single image can serve a multitude of purposes, appear in a range of settings, and mean different things to different people” (Sturken 10) based on how the reader constructs meaning from the material world.
The graphic novel Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Phillippe Stassen depicts the traumatic effects of the Rwandan genocide on a teenage Hutu boy, also named Deogratias. Deogratias’ sober thoughts are plagued by nightmares and hallucinations about his actions during the genocide. Throughout the graphic novel, Deogratias’ flashbacks touch upon the terror and cruelty synonymous with the time, although the author does not lay out exactly what happened. It is evident that Deogratias was complicit in the murders of his Tutsi friends and the rape of their mother, but the full extent of his role remains ambiguous. Thus, the reader also undergoes closure to take away meaning from the various images.
The cultural bias inherent in closure is perhaps even more severe when focusing on a subject like the Rwandan genocide, because it is such a personally tragic and polarized historical event. Moderates became radicalized, neighbors murdered neighbors and the lines were blurred between victims and perpetrators. The graphic also depicts the Western powers’ roles in the tragedy. Thus, every reader of this graphic novel has some connection to the genocide. Objectivity is not, nor should be, possible when describing such a historical event; merely observing the facts and figures cannot bring justice to the victims because they reduce individuals to numbers on a page.
Deogratias sheds light on the complexities by addressing the conflict through the eyes of a perpetrator. Thus, the reader can gain some insight into the mind of a moderate Hutu when his or her own experiences likely differ dramatically. The comic’s form and depiction of Deogratias further contribute to this effect because it allows the reader to analyze the story’s content from another lens by reducing the identification between the reader and the graphically-depicted character. The drastic difference in subject portrayal creates the sense that it is a new story, despite plenty of media attention on the Rwandan genocide and publicized stories of survival. Although the vast majority of people recognize the cruelty and horror that characterizes the Rwandan genocide, Stassen’s use of different subjects and contexts is somewhat shocking to the reader and causes him or her to follow the storyline closely, rather than assuming the events will be similar to those told in other genocide testimonies.
The complex emotions and thoughts that a reader experiences when reading Deogratias merely touch upon the complexities involved in the entire conflict. However, they certainly challenge the notion that there is an objective, black-and-white way to view and process the historical event. The graphic novel highlights the devastation that plagued the entire nation, not just the Tutsis, and the variety of different roles that factored in to create such a tragic event in world history.

Works Cited

Stassen, John-Phillippe. Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda. (Macmillan, 2006).
McCloud, Scott. Understanding comics: The invisible art. (Massachusetts: 1993).Sturken, Marita, Lisa Cartwright, and Marta Sturken. Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
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“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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