By Karen Meyer
It is important to understand the unique harm and injustice subjected to women and girls throughout genocide, including in its aftermath. If women tend to be the victims and are seen as the vulnerable group, why are they subjected to such travesties? Rape is recognized as a weapon of war; however, it is apparent when violent conflict plagued Rwanda and Sudan rape was inescapable for thousands of women.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda differed in its treatment of men and women, which was reflected in various phases. Adam Jones suggests that the perpetrators pursued certain genders at different stages of the 100 days they ravaged. It started with adult men who can be seen to be the most dangerous, then eventually targeting adolescents and elderly men. At this later stage, Tutsi women were being raped or victimized. This then led to children and newborns being murdered in order to kill off “tomorrow’s RPF soldiers.” Finally it led to the extermination of women and girls to cleanse all Tutsis from existence (Jones, 2009).
In Kigali, an anti-Tutsi and Hutu power newspaper named Kangura published the Hutu 10 Commandments.
The first commandment stated:
1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, whoever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Hutu who
- marries a Tutsi woman
- befriends a Tutsi woman
- employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine (Munyaneza, 1999, p. 37).
If you go to a community pool and look at its list of rules, the first rule is going to say “No diving in the shallow end” and by the 10th rule you have “No chewing gum” or some lesser rule to follow. The first rule is chosen with the utmost precaution and discipline to avoid a real consequence. So why did Kangura’s first rule target Tutsi women as its most important rule to consider? It seems they may have been seen as the substantial threat, not the vulnerable group. Or possibly because the men would have been more merciful to women; therefore, this threat needed to be highlighted so the Hutu men were anything but sympathetic. The impact of this commandment may have ultimately contributed to the sexual violations that took place throughout the genocide.
In Rwanda’s aftermath, the first conviction of rape as a weapon of war was delivered as a crime of genocide in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) against Jean-Paul Akayesu. Akayesu was the mayor of the rural town of Taba who traded in his humanitarian efforts to stop crimes against his township in exchange for a military position, and participated in several acts of genocide. He was sentenced to life imprisonment as “an individual for genocide and international crimes of sexual violence.”
A decade after the Rwandan genocide, the Janjaweed militia in Sudan began killing off African males. After disarming the men and adolescent boys, the militia was free to terrorize and rape the women and leave a tarnished and violated body in its midst. In addition to systematic rape of women, they were being used to terrorize and break down social structures. Rape was being used as a weapon of war and became a strategic tactic for the militia to deteriorate the communities while also simultaneously insulting the husband or man’s honor. Following the rape, the reputation of the man is tainted and the woman becomes “damaged goods.” The rape has permanently scarred the husband or male’s ego, with his role as the protector threatened. As a result, the woman is often abandoned from her family, home and society. It is more strategic to leave the women alive because it damages women’s livelihood and in turn destroys the entire community, family, and social structure.
The Women’s Media Center reported deliberate intentions to impregnate the Sudanese women and force “mixed” babies, which continues to threaten their bodies through the means of reproduction. “For instance, women have been raped in order to occupy ‘inferior’ wombs with ‘superior’ sperm, or forced to have abortions or sterilizations.” Tragically, Janjaweed babies born of the rapes rarely have a future and infanticide or abandonment is a common result.
For Sudanese women, the sexualized violence continued even after they were at the “safety” of refugee or internally displaced persons camps, as they were still preyed on by the militia. Rape continued to be a threat when the women left to collect basic survival needs such as food, water or wood.
The psychological damage that women face results in a lifetime of emotional torment. The male and female victims of both the Rwandan and Sudan genocides had different experiences and outcomes, with the majority of men being murdered and a greater number of women surviving brutal rapes. With women’s bodies becoming the new battlefield, it is sensible to agree with General Patrick Cammaert, a former Deputy Force Commander of United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) when he said that “it has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in contemporary conflicts” (Anderson, 2011, p. 35).
Anderson, L. (2011). The Defense Command and Staff College: Sexual Violence, the Armed Forces and Military Operations. Vol. 1, Issue 3. Norway: Norwegian Defense University College.
Jones, A. (2009). Gender Inclusive: Essays in Violence, Men, and Feminist International Relations: Gender & Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.