Academic journal article African Studies Review

Situating Sexual Violence in Rwanda (1990-2001): Sexual Agency, Sexual Consent, and the Political Economy of War

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Situating Sexual Violence in Rwanda (1990-2001): Sexual Agency, Sexual Consent, and the Political Economy of War

Article excerpt

The Case of Gender-Based Violence: Assessing the Impact of International Human Rights Rhetoric on African Lives

Abstract:

This article situates the sexual violence associated with the Rwandan civil war and 1994 genocide within a local cultural history and political economy in which institutionalized gender violence shaped the choices of Rwandan women and girls. Based on ethnographic research, it argues that Western notions of sexual consent are not applicable to a culture in which colonialism, government policy, war, and scarcity of resources have limited women's access to land ownership, economic security, and other means of survival. It examines emic cultural models of sexual consent and female sexual agency and proposes that sexual slavery, forced marriage, prostitution, transactional sex, nonmarital sex, informal marriage or cohabitation, and customary (bridewealth) marriages exist on a continuum on which female sexual agency becomes more and more constrained by material circumstance. Even when women's choices are limited, women still exercise their agency to survive. Conflating all forms of sex in conflict zones under the rubric of harm undermines women's and children's rights because it reinforces gendered hierarchies and diverts attention from the structural conditions of poverty in postconflict societies.

Résumé: Cet article situe les problèmes de violence sexuelle associés avec la guerre civile au Ruanda et le génocide de 1994 dans le contexte d'une économie et d'une histoire culturelle locale qui contient une violence institutionnalisée contre les femmes et les jeunes filles ruandaises. En nous appuyant sur une recherche ethnographique, nous soutenons que les notions occidentales de consentement sexuel ne s'appliquent pas à une culture dans laquelle le colonialisme, la politique du gouvernement, et la pénurie de ressources ont limité l'accès pour les femmes à la propriété de terres, à la sécurité économique, et à d'autres moyens de subsistance. Nous examinons les modèles culturels émiques de consentement sexuel et du droit sexuel féminin, et offre la perspective que l'esclavage sexuel, le mariage forcé, la prostitution, le sexe de transaction, le sexe extra marital, le mariage ou la cohabitation informelle, et les mariages coutumiers coexistent sur un continuum de plus en plus lié à des contraintes matérielles. Même lorsque les choix des femmes sont limités, elles exercent toujours leur pouvoir de survie. Le fait de présenter toutes les formes de transactions sexuelles dans les zones de conflit comme des transactions de violence met en danger les droits des femmes et des enfants car cela renforce les hiérarchies entre les sexes, et détourne l'attention des vraies questions structurelles de pauvreté dans les sociétés post-conflit.

Introduction

Sexual violence ranging from forced marriage to rape to sexual torture and mutilation was used as a weapon of genocide against Tutsi women and girls during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Yet the genocide, which occurred between April 6 and July 4, took place during a decade characterized by violent conflict, beginning with the civil war (1990-94), continuing with the exile of more than one million Rwandans in refugee camps in eastern Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and western Tanzania (1994-96), and ending with the insurgency in northwestern Rwanda (1997-2000). All of these conflicts were characterized by high rates of sexual violence as well as militarized sex, defined here as voluntary and coerced sexual relations between soldiers and civilians. An epidemiological survey of Rwandan women living in Rwanda in 1994 found that 49.4 percent of them had been raped (Fabri et al. 2007:5). Furthermore, sexual violence in 1994 ranged beyond ethnic/racial dyads of Tutsi-victim and Hutu-perpetrator. Many Hutu women and girls also endured sexual violence in 1994, and an unknown number of Rwandan women and girls of all ethnicities were pressured into sexual relationships with RPF soldiers after they reached the safety of internally displaced persons camps in RPF-held territory. …

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