Since Women for Rwanda started in 2011, we have built a house for Nyirangendahima and her family, raised funds to give several women goats for personal use, and helped set up a farming business, and it’s all been a success!
The health of Nyirangendahima and her two children has massively improved thanks to the health insurance that she can now afford with the income generated from the farming business; the availability of fresh water from her water tank; and having a roof over their heads.
There are still some challenges in the way: the water tank sometimes breaks, and the goats are reproducing and there is not enough room for all them in their current shed.
But thanks to your support Nyirangendahima continues to move forwards and she is not alone in dealing with these obstacles. Thanks to your help, this month, Nyirangendahima will have a new shed to keep all her sheep sound and safe!
This is what she had to say:
“I feel more stable and happier knowing that my children are getting an education and have medical insurance – it is a great relief for me”
Nyirangendahima, Feb 2018
Farming & shop business
The farming and shop business is also growing! This business is split between 12 women, 7 who do the farming and the remaining 5 buy beans and resell them for a profit at a later stage when the beans are scarce and the prices go up.
Even though the women have managed to make a profit and create their own sustainable income, the business is not without its challenges. In recent weeks, competition has increased as new shops have opened offering similar produce.
To rise above this challenge the women have come up with a new business idea of their own initiative! Stay tuned to hear more details soon!
In the meantime, with your support they will be buying more land to expand their farming and increase production. This will mean they will be able to stand on their own and grow their business.
“The support that you gave me has helped me earn an income and pay for my medical insurance and get my other basic needs like salt and buying milk.”
Josephine, Feb 2018
The group of eleven women supported by Women for Rwanda is located in Gisagara, one of the districts of southern Rwanda.
In 1994, Rwanda witnessed a genocide in which 800,000 people were killed over a period of 100 days.
The roots of the genocide lie in decades of political power struggle between the Hutus and the Tutsis, in colonial and postcolonial relations, and in a tangle of definitions of ethnic identity. Therefore, to summarize what caused the genocide is a long task. During the years leading up to the genocide the social and political environment in Rwanda grew restless because there were rumours that a Tutsi revolutionary force was grouping up in the neighbouring country Uganda. Hutu rulers became afraid of losing power, and begun steadily preparing the country for war.
Most radio stations at the time were controlled by the Hutu government and from 1990 onwards the media was used as a propaganda machine against all Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. At the same time, the Hutu government trained and recruited hundreds new militias.
The genocidal killing began on April 6, 1994, after the plane of the Hutu leader Habyarimana was shot down and Habyarimana was killed. The real identity behind the shooting remains unknown till this day, but Hutu extremists immediately used the event to justify the initiation of mass killings that the government had secretly been planning for months.
The killings begun immediately. Thousands of men, women, and children were tortured, killed, and their houses were often looted and burned down.
In addition to the killings, during the spring of 1994 500,000 women were violently raped. Rape during the genocide was particularly brutal because it was used as a weapon of war. Many of the women were physically mutilated and psychologically scarred for life.
Today, 18 years later, the effects of these rapes are still very real. Approximately 15,000 children were born out of these rapes and thousands of women and children were affected with HIV. The stigma caused by rape has forced these women and children to live on the margins of society. The women are silenced and neglected by their community and families; they constantly struggle to obtain dignified sources of income, lack access to medical aid, and lack economic security.
When the genocide happened Nyira (Nyirangendahimana) was 20 years old. She had a big family. She was one of 13 children. During the spring of 1994, however, her entire family was killed. When the killings began Nyirangendahimana ran and tried to hide, but was quickly found by a group of men. They raped her but were uninterested in killing her. Once she managed to escape she carried on walking without knowing where to go. She then met a man whom she had never seen before. He took her to his house. For a moment she thought she was safe, but this man locked her in a room and kept her there for the duration of the genocide, systematically raping her every day. She said it was like “not being a woman, not like being a human being.” After the genocide the man was put to prison for killing many people. He wasn’t charged for rape.
After the genocide Nyirangendahimana found out she was pregnant and later gave birth to a baby boy. Her family house in the village was destroyed, so for a while she lived in a shelter. She had to give her body to be able to eat. Today, she is 40 and she still doesn’t have a house. She lives in a small room that she rents from the neighbour. She’s very ill, but since she’s unable to work she’s unable to afford medication or adequate meals.
“My life is bad,” she says. “I’ve spent two months in the house without working. I cannot work because I am sick. It’s a big problem for me.”
Whenever she can, she does small jobs like cleaning and washing for her neighbours. Her first son died when he was 16, but she now has two other younger children whom she has to look after. Her youngest son is a year and three months old.
“I know the father but he doesn’t accept him. We are not married. He can refuse this baby.”
Nyirangendahimana still lives in the same village where she was born. It is the same village where her family was killed, where she tried to hide during the genocide, where she was violated, and where her first son died. “When your children grow up what will you tell them?” I asked her. “I will tell them the truth,” she said.
Rwanda is traditionally a patriarchal society where women are subordinated and limited by their “natural” role of child-bearers. Even though the 1991 Constitution of Rwanda guarantees equal opportunities for both men and women, women are restricted and limited to a wide array of opportunities outside the household. This has wider implications for women in Rwanda as it contributes to the discrimination against them in profound and systemic ways.
Years before the genocide, it was of tradition that the women were dependent from their husbands, fathers, and male children, and, they were valued by the number of male children they had. Moreover, the image of the ideal women is constructed through the frame of her maternal role. Women therefore, must be fertile, hard working, reserved, and silent. Domestic violence is widely spread due to the stereotypical image of women being portrayed as docile and subordinate. The secondary status of the women in Rwanda is commonly linked to high levels of poverty, with its population depending highly on agriculture for income.
The profound discrimination against women has carried over into a post-genocide Rwanda and poses serious problems for women, particularly given that they now constitute roughly 70% of the population. Many survivors are widows who lost their families in the genocide and found themselves displaced or refugees with no remaining male relatives. Others are women whose husbands fled the country when the the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)led government took over. Others are young girls whose families were killed or have fled the country. Many households are headed by women who are in turn supporting children of their own, children of relatives, and orphans they have taken in. Their subordinate status continues to disadvantage them as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
As a result of the past and current discrimination, many female genocide survivors have been reduced to an even lower standard of living now that they are widowed or orphaned. Most female genocide survivors have little education, lack marketable skills, and are often denied access to their husband’s or father’s property because they are women.
As the building works for Nyira’s house progress, Women for Rwanda would like to take this opportunity to tell the story of how and why we got here.
This project began in a coffee shop near Holborn, in December 2012, after a university course ‘Rwanda: politics of change.’ The course was run like an action project and tasked the students in the class to propose an initiative to help the thousands of women who were raped during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Learning about the problems many women in Rwanda still face as a consequence of the events in 1994 inspired a small group of students to find out if there was actually something they could do to help. This led to the creation of Women for Rwanda (WFR), a grass root organisation that aims to empower women who were made victims of sexual violence during the genocide.
A complex situation
After several months of research and fundraising, WFR travelled to Rwanda to learn more about the problems first-hand, and observe work that’s already being done. What became clear from day one was that the situation for many women was very complex, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a single solution to help all. The stigma caused by rape means that most women are segregated from society in one way or another, some geographically, some by social exclusion, or both. After almost 21 years after the genocide, many of them still struggle to find work, and often do not have family members to support them. Some women have, at times, resulted to sex work in order to make a living and in some cases their health has been affected as a consequence.
On their trip to Rwanda the WFR group met Josee, a Rwandese psychologist who works with a community of women in a number of small villages around Butare, south Rwanda. The clientele of around 60 women whom Josee supports were all exposed to sexual violence during the genocide, and Josee provides them with psychological therapy to help them heal from their traumatic experiences. Josee introduced WFR to one of the communities, and later, through group discussion, the community identified one of the women, Nyira, as the one in most urgent need of help.
Nyira is a mother of two young children, ill and unable to work. The family doesn’t have a home. To have shelter over their heads Nyira rents a small room from her neighbour and pays by doing small household chores such as washing. The women in the community raised Nyira’s situation as the most deserving of help, as, like Josee puts it, “it’s difficult to help anyone heal physically or emotionally, if they don’t have a home”.
Decent housing remains an issue for many vulnerable people in Rwanda, and especially those who survived the genocide. Some, like Nyira, still do not have decent homes, and others, who had houses built for them, face difficulties in paying for repairs such as leaking roofs. Despite considerable efforts by FARG (the Rwanda government fund for survivors), Rwanda’s Auditor General has criticised the organisation for failing to meet housing objectives and for poor quality construction.
How you can help
Thus, as their first project, WFR is building a house for Nyira and her two children in partnership with Survivors Fund (SURF), a UK and Kigali based NGO working in support of vulnerable survivors. The project began this spring by buying Nyira and her children a plot of land. The fundraising is still on-going, but the plan is for Nyira and her children to move into their new home at the end of the summer. You can help make it happen by donating to the project now.
As part of Women for Rwanda‘s project One Woman, One Year, One house, the supper club initiative was born to increase awareness while enjoying a pleasurable experience such as eating. We realised how doing charity per se is a concept of the past century and people are fed up with pictures of misery and grievance, for this we believe that taking to a table the discussion around women empowerment and development is indeed a stronger motivator for change.
Indeed, our guests have found rather pleasurable to share their evening with a conscious audience and of course traditional Rwandese food. It is rather hard, even in a cosmopolite London, to find Rwandese dishes and delicatessen, hence we decided that we had the duty to share one of the million wonders of Rwanda. We decided to serve avocado on a bed of homemade croutons as starter together with homemade bread (all of course watered with the right dose of nectar). The meal proceeded with traditional grilled goat meat -locally sourced- together with plantain and spicy beans. We could not conclude better the dinner than with a plantain cake and Rwandese tea (some of us have spiced it up with a hint of honey rum, unfortunately could not make banana beer, a traditional Rwandese drink).
We hope that this initiative will be the beginning of a new chapter of Women for Rwanda‘s campaigns, fusing dining with awareness and empowerment. If you would like to take part in the sustainable supper club movement, we would be more than happy to welcome you and your friends or cater delicious Rwandese food at your front door andshare our story.
At Women for Rwanda we believe that just because you cannot do everything does not mean you should do nothing.
“We must not be left to utter the words ‘never again’, again and again” Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general: Commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
The recent commemoration of the Rwandan genocide has catapulted the 1994 massacres back into global media interest. On the 7th April 2014, in order to mark the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, a 100-day project of commemoration was launched – a period that symbolically and soberly reflects the 100-day period during which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered in Rwanda.
Commemoration reminds society of genocidal atrocities, ensuring that the memory of such events is preserved in the collective consensus of society. Moreover, marking the anniversary of monumental moments in history – including the Rwandan massacres, the Holocaust and both World Wars – provides an opportunity for increased learning and knowledge concerning the events that occurred. Therefore to remember and remind society of what happened – before, during and afterwards – remains crucial if atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide are to be part of collective memory and history.
Despite the obvious positive and constructive effects of commemoration, memorial days are often precisely that: a day. A traditional act of commemoration may be marked by a specific day – for example Holocaust Memorial day, which is marked on the 27th January each year. However, can we really expect to remember such complex events in a holistic manner if we only allocate a single day of commemoration? Though it would be unlikely to suggest that the majority of people will commemorate the Rwandan genocide for 100 days, the very fact that the length of the genocide is mentioned is a useful way to remind people of the length of such events. Often, war stories and notable events feature in the news for a couple weeks or so, gathering initial attention so that a response from the global community may be elicited. However, it is an all too familiar story that frequently these major news stories fall from global attention despite the atrocities continuing.
The notion of the 100-day commemoration process actively confronts people with the duration of the Rwandan genocide. The 100-day period functions on a dual basis; not only does it highlight the longevity of the genocide but, paradoxically, it demonstrates the strikingly short amount of time it took to murder nearly one million people. The rate of killing during the Rwandan genocide is one aspect that is so shocking about the events that unfolded. It is startling to note that, had the rate of killings continued for a longer period of time, more people would have been killed in Rwanda than during the Holocaust. The 100-day period of commemoration, therefore, represents a departure from traditional modes of commemoration.
In Rwanda, thousands gathered at the Amahoro football stadium in Kigali to remember and respect the memory of the genocide, including dignitaries and local Rwandans. Twenty years previously, Amahoro – which coincidentally means ‘peace’ – became a site of refuge for thousands of Rwandans against the violence that was occurring across the county therefore making the ceremony, for many attending, even more emotionally charged.
Adding to this emotion, actors re-enacted scenes of violence, essentially encapsulating scenes that were firmly fixed in the memories of many of the ceremony’s attendees. Crying and wailing could be heard as people watched the performance; some were so overwhelmed that they fainted and had to be carried out to receive medical attention. This passionate form of commemoration is markedly different to forms of memorialisation that one expects to witness in the UK, where commemoration services are usually sombre and reserved. However, the re-enactment appeared to function as a cathartic process – a release not just of individual emotions but also allowing for a sense of collective mourning, a nation mourning a generation lost.
Reading the many articles circulating online to mark the anniversary in the UK, I noticed a distinct difference in approach to the service in Kigali. Of course this is inevitable. However, what this difference highlighted for me is the ways in which different nations commemorate important global events. The theme of UK commemoration – in the written form anyway – appeared to focus mainly on a sense of renewal. The Guardian especially featured numerous articles which evoked a forward-looking (almost) optimistic tone. For instance, the issue of increasing levels of women’s rights (an issue that had to be addressed due to the huge number of widows left in the aftermath of the genocide). Titles including, ‘Rwanda’s women make strides towards equality 20 years after the genocide’ and ‘Sweet dreams: Rwandan women whip up popular ice-cream business’, demonstrate how it seems to be women taking Rwanda forward, re-establishing lives that had been brutally ripped apart.
In the context of Women for Rwanda’s interests and concerns, I couldn’t help but read these articles with slight caution. Yes, it is true that following the genocide women now make up 64% of parliamentarians, and there are as many girls as boys gaining both a primary and secondary education. Important issues, however, still remain. During the massacres, up to half a million women were raped – 76% of which are now living with HIV as a result. The issue of rape remains a contentious issue in Rwanda. As a result, victims’ families and the wider community often reject these women. The Guardian article, ‘Widows of the Genocide: how Rwanda’s women are re-building their lives’ articulated the struggles of these women, providing examples of associations (such as Avega) and recognising the position of these women in Rwandese society.
The role of commemoration is not only to remember the past; commemoration allows us to remember those who are still living with the memory of the genocide. Though it is undoubtedly important to remember those that lost their lives during the Rwandan genocide, it is also vital to remember those still suffering from their persecution. Remembering those women whose voices may never be heard remains an essential endeavour of the commemoration of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Rwanda is gearing up for its parliamentary elections, scheduled for the 16th September. Rwanda shot to the top of the gender representation leader board at its last election when 56% of seats went to female candidates, far outstripping it’s African contemporaries and most European nations.
Now Rwanda’s population will decide how that percentage will change. These elections will determine the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies for the next five years.
In line with Rwanda’s constitution, 24 of the seats must go to women who stand independently from a party, directly representing women’s interests. These representatives are chosen by women committee members at all levels and district and sector council members.
At the previous election these seats were not the only seats to go to women as female candidates flourished in the political parties as well, gaining 20 seats on top of the allocation ‘women’ seats.
Election observers have begun arriving in the country, and will stay until the 19th when all voting is over to ensure the elections are free and fair.
On the 16th September 5,953,531 eligible Rwandans will vote for the 53 seats that have no specific qualifications. On the 17th women will vote to fulfil their 24 specifically female seats, followed by voting on the 18th by young people and disabled people to fill their respective seats.
Polling stations are expected to be open from 7am to 3pm to allow people to vote and provisional results are expected for the 20th with final results on the 25th.
There are currently 410 candidates standing for the 80 available seats, meaning competition is fierce. This election will be a test as to how committed Rwanda is to raising the status of women in its society and ensuring women get a fair say in their democracy.
I’ll keep you posted when the results are in.
Claire is a supporter of Women for Rwanda currently staying in Kigali, Rwanda working at a women’s centre.
Humanitarian aid is ‘any project undertaken to relieve a humanitarian crisis’. The circularity of its definition hints at its complexity. The aim may always seem noble; helping those in need, but the reality is often more problematic.
The affluent west strides in on a white horse to save poor, destitute, non-white people in some ‘god-forsaken’ place. Again the west plays hero to a country grieving, a country wounded, a country in pain. We like to think humanitarian efforts are just about feeding hungry desperate people. That we can get in, give food and get out. But all too often the areas in need of help are caught up in war, natural disasters or just the intricacies of culture. With every unfolding moment of a crisis the situation gets more complex.
Humanitarian programs go into areas that are dangerous, where the goodies and the badies aren’t quite easily distinguishable. As a result they are confronted on a daily basis with complex decisions. They deal with the life and death of the people, whilst trying (and often failing) to protect the safety of their own workers. And their actions may not always have the intended consequences. To protect their workers and ensure they are able to distribute aid they may have to pay a local warlord for their protection, perhaps funding the violence. The food parcels they deliver could be taken by soldiers who thus live to fight another day. Days can be spent doing nothing, waiting for the next bit of equipment to arrive, or a truce to be declared between warring factions that control the route to the refugee camps. Often help is given with arbitrary preference; one village or camp may receive support because they happen to be near a base, or because the organisation has heard of them. The traps are many.
More than this, who said they wanted help? Of course when people are starving with no recourse to food, help is likely to be gratefully received, but when must those organisations leave? What counts as humanitarian work? Once you’ve feed them, do you clothe them? Do you educate them? Do you re-house them? Do you help them find a job? How far must charities crawl into the web of a foreign society before they have fulfilled their original role and can leave? And will they be able to leave without tearing a hole in the delicate fabric.
Of course, there are positive tangible benefits to humanitarian work. The simple sustenance the population receives means that country still has a future. The act of strangers coming in to help gives the people hope that someone out there cares for them, that someone out there wants them to live. Humanitarian aid can help the people caught in conflict to ride out the worst so that they can rebuild the country in the future.
But this is just the edge of humanitarian work; the basic understanding gleaned by a student of the subject. To know the truth of it, you must ask those who have been there. Read stories of humanitarian work, read the accounts of bloggers, the dangers, the frustrations, the joys and the tribulations of those out there in the field. When we sit in our western world we cannot know what it means to live in a humanitarian crisis, nor to go into one to help. We can only know the theory and the philosophy behind it. And strangely, this limited view is enough to give us good cause to support it.
We send humanitarians because we could not, and should not stand by. Yes, humanitarian projects raise difficult moral questions. Often they leave behind new problems; dependency on hand outs, vacuums of support systems, governments estranged to the responsibility of supporting their own people. But how could we live with ourselves if we didn’t go in? If we let those people die because the alternative was too complicated, or might implicate us to a commitment we cannot currently for see or calculate. What would that make us?
We do not take part in humanitarian work because it makes sense. We do not do it because every outcome will be positive. We do it because there are people in crisis. We do it because in reality the world is far smaller than we think. When you see a neighbour in pain, when you see them dying and you can help, don’t you have a responsibility to do so?
Aid is complex, it deserves our attention, and it deserves our scrutiny. But we must never lose that childlike indignation that says we should not stand by. The voice that says not in my name shall these atrocities continue unabated, these people suffer unheard. The debate around how and where and when we help, will rage on. But the question of why should remain answered.
In the West we have a problem. But don’t worry, there’s a fix for it, and apparently it’s approved by mums.
This preppy little phrase has recently crept into our advertising, reviving in us the outdated motto that mother knows best. It seems that society feels like without an apron wearing, wooden spoon brandishing wife in rollers we might not know which cleaning product to use, which nappies to buy or how best to entertain children with saccharine snacks. Despite the rise in the number of families with working mothers we still like to pretend that nuclear family not only exists, but is to be idealised. This International Day of Families too many of us will still be labouring under the ideal that Mum, Dad, Tilly, Tom and Rover the dog are celebrating with a home cooked family dinner.
Our tunnel vision of the family is exclusionary, prejudiced and frankly counter-productive. Throughout the world ‘family’ is stretched to fit a plethora of lifestyles, some you may not even recognise. Remember the first time you realised your family was a bit weird? That not every family wore matching yellow anoraks when on they went on walking holidays in Wales. That some families produced Christmas musicals containing the smallest members of their brood that were so elaborate they could rival the West End. That not every family talked to each other the way yours did. Variation in family exists in one community, on one street, let alone across continents. We get so caught up in the definition, in the semantics, that we forget the sentiment. Family is no more blood than it is bonds. Family are the people who care for you, support you, respect you and protect you. Family has never been so complicated, or less so. The only thing that has ever been simpler has been the stereotype.
After the genocide in Rwanda people built families from whoever they could cling to. When you’ve lost your blood relatives and seen your village consumed by an evil you can barely speak of, you do the most human thing you can; cling to each other. WomenforRwanda is about hearing the stories we wish have never even happened, hearing the voices of Rwandan women because their stories are bittersweet, beautiful and full of life. So this International Day of Families, go and tell the story of your family. Tell it to your kids, your friends and your work colleagues. Then ask them for the story of their family.
Every family is different, some have ugly sides, some have silly sayings but all have an awesome role in shaping us as people, and us as a society. Go tell your story and remind yourself that family is more than a six letter word.