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.