Rwandan Widows Mobilize for Positive Change

By Walji, Aneesa | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall/Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Rwandan Widows Mobilize for Positive Change


Walji, Aneesa, Women & Environments International Magazine


In October 2011, WEI was invited to the Gruber Foundation awards ceremony to recognize the work done by AVEGA Agahozo, an association created by widows of the Rwandan genocide. AVEGA has worked for the last 17 years to attain legal reforms that would provide women in Rwanda with inheritance rights, establish rape as an act of genocide and establish crimes of sexual violence as serious crimes. AVEGA was awarded the 2011 Women's Rights Prize by the Gruber Foundation, which recognizes significant contributions to human rights that advance the rights of women and girls around the world. In addition to the award, the Gruber Foundation has created the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women's Rights at Yale University beginning in 2012.

Aneesa Walji, attended the ceremony on behalf of WEI, and shares the following account of the event and the work being carried out by AVEGA.

When approximately 800,000 people are murdered in the span of 100 days, a nation's population is left in tragedy and disorder. This was Rwanda's experience after the 1994 genocide, and the effects continue to reverberate, among women in particular. In the aftermath of the genocide, there were 10 times more widows than widowers. Many of the women that survived were victims of the extreme violence, including sexual violence that they witnessed or experienced. In fact, the number of women who were raped during the genocide is estimated to be between 250,000 to 500,000.

Devoted to supporting these widow survivors is an organization called AVEGA Agahozo. AVEGA is an acronym for the Association des Veuves du Génocide, which translates to the Association of the Widows of Genocide. "Agahozo" means "dry one's tears" in Kinyarwanda. AVEGA's work was honoured and celebrated this past September when it received the 2011 Gruber Women's Rights Prize at the Yale Club in New York City. Patricia Gruber, President of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, presented die award. AVEGA was granted a gold medal and an unrestricted cash prize of $500,000. Chantal Kabasinga, the organization's National President, and Odette Kayirere, the Executive Secretary, accepted the award on behalf of AVEGA.

During the ceremony's opening remarks, Patricia Gruber explained that the Gruber Foundation "recognizes fundamental shifts in human values and culture." The Chair of the Selection Advisory Board added that the Women's Rights Prize is typically awarded to organizations that operate in exceptionally challenging contexts. Sakena Yacoobi, a member of the Selection Advisory Board and previous recipient of the prize on behalf of the Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL), applauded AVEGA's work, specifically mentioning the support that it provided to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the collection of evidence concerning rape. …

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