Based on interviews with more than 90 women, the book tells the story of how Rwandan women saved their nation after a genocide and created a model for lasting security for countries worldwide.
"Ambassador Hunt draws on her extensive research and experience to provide a thoughtful analysis of women's roles in conflict and reconciliation, with lessons well beyond Rwanda"
Princeton Lyman, Senior Advisor to the
President of the U.S. Institute of Peace
"We have put in all the efforts to make sure that this group of the community is part and parcel of the government of our country….We still have a long way to go, but what is important is that there is a will, there is good leadership.” Listen to the interview with Oda Gasinzigwa, a member of the cabinet in Rwanda.
After genocide decimated Rwanda two decades ago, the country’s women spearheaded the efforts to rebuild and heal. Now other nations come to Rwanda to learn.
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This success, in many ways, was driven by women. With domestic ingenuity unrivaled on the continent, they helped create an African success story. Doing so, they set an example that offers powerful lessons for other conflicts.
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Visit the Isange One Step Centre where survivors of sexual violence can seek medical treatment, counseling services, and legal help filing claims against their attackers. The design is intended to ensure that the patient has to tell her story only once.
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Photo: Dirk Gebhardt / Laif
After the massacres stopped, Rwanda lay in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of bodies were piled on roadsides. Churches and schools were destroyed; offices and businesses looted. Electricity was erratic, running water non-existent, and governance minimal. Above all, the nation was traumatized by the heinous crimes that had decimated the population. Nearly a million of Rwanda’s eight million people had been killed in 100 days, during the culmination of decades of ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis.
Because most of those killed were men and because many male perpetrators fled to neighboring nations, 70 percent of Rwanda’s post-genocide population was female. Faced with ensuring their families’ very survival, women stepped up. Mothers took in orphaned children and organized support groups for widows. Women moved from cleaning buildings to reconstructing them. They farmed and started businesses. Throughout the country, they created stability in the aftermath of unspeakable violence.
As perhaps the most iconic woman leader, the late Aloisea Inyumba (pictured at right and top of page) oversaw crucial elements of Rwanda’s reconstruction. After a national listening tour, she devised programs to rebuild her country. One of those was a new five-tiered system of local to national women’s councils, addressing key issues such as health, education, and security. She was a vocal advocate of work to find homes for orphans and homeless youth, helping convince families to adopt hundreds of thousands of children without regard for ethnicity.
Aloisea Inyumba. Photo courtesy of The Independent.
Women played key roles in Gacaca (pronounced gah-CHA-cha), a kind of truth and reconciliation process that operated most often at the community level. Perpetrators of relatively “lesser” crimes faced the families of the victims, who benefited from the chance for their grief to be aired. Women served as the national director, as judges, and as key witnesses. By 2012 nearly two million perpetrators had come before these tribunals.
Women held 3 of the 12 seats of the commission tasked with drafting a new constitution for Rwanda, approved by referendum in 2003. Encouraging and reflecting the rise of women into both informal and formal leadership, the commission established a 30 percent quota for women throughout government as well as a gender monitoring office.
The five-tiered system proved a dramatically effective leadership development scheme for moving civil society leaders into responsible government positions. With 30 percent of parliamentary seats reserved for women, the council system fed those from lower levels into the reserved positions. Soon the women with the highest profiles and the most experience began running against men in non-reserved positions, and winning. Today, with 64 percent of its seats held by women, Rwanda’s parliament leads the world in female representation.
Credit: Ever Binamungu
Despite concerns about its uneven transition to democracy, Rwanda is acknowledged by many—two decades after the genocide—as one of the most stable nations in Africa, remarkably corruption-free. In only ten years, life expectancy has risen from 48 to 58 years. Deaths of children under five have been cut in half. A compulsory education program has put boys and girls in primary and secondary schools in equal numbers. Women can now own and inherit property and are active leaders in all sectors of the nation, including business. National mandates and programs are reducing violence, including violence against women.
View a Harvard Kennedy School John F. Kennedy Jr Forum program, "Can Women Stop War?" which includes Rwanda's Ambassador to the US, Mathilde Mukantabana, commenting on the "narrative of ascent" of the women of her nation.
Inclusive Security advances global peace by providing expertise grounded in research that demonstrates women’s effective contributions to security writ large. Inclusive Security, founded in 1999, has worked with more than 2,000 women leaders from 40 conflict zones, strengthening them through targeted training and mentoring, helping them to build coalitions, and connecting them to policymakers. Based in Washington, DC, Inclusive Security is a program of the non-profit Hunt Alternatives Fund.
Contact: Shereen Hall