Gendered Genocide: Disproportional Post-Conflict Burdens on Women and Girls in Rwanda

By Britt Gronemeyer, Staff Writer. Photo by Photo by Anja Bauermann on Unsplash

Warning: This article contains discussion of gender based violence, including sexual violence, and mass killing. Please read with caution.

“While women have made impressive strides towards equality, they continue to face many of the consequences of the 1994 genocide demonstrating that gender based impacts last long beyond the end of conflict”

It is widely understood that genocide tears at the social institutions of the affected nation and that the rebuilding process is strenuous. However, the gendered nature of genocide leads to these phenomena disproportionately impacting women. The use of sexual violence by the oppressor as well as demographic changes resulting from genocide lead to an unfair burden on women and girls. While this is evident in most genocides, it is particularly notable in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide of the Tutsis. This article will analyse the impact of gender based violence in the Rwandan genocide and demonstrate the disproportionate burden placed upon women following the conflict, thus arguing that the consequences of genocide are highly gendered in nature.

Violence Faced by Women during the Rwandan Genocide 

The atrocities that took place during the three months of the Rwandan Genocide included the systematic use of gender based violence to further the goals of the Hutus. The United Nations has estimated that during the genocide, between 100,000 to 250,000 women were victims of rape. Sexual violence has historically been used as a weapon of war during  genocide as a means of terrorising the oppressed population, consequently stripping women of their humanity. This included the widespread rape and enslavement of Tutsi women during the Rwandan genocide. Additionally, the  conflict saw mass killings of Tutsi men which generated a demographic shift that would leave the Rwandan population primarily female. 

Consequences of Sexual Violence

Many women who were victims of sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide faced and continue to face serious health problems, both physically and mentally. Resulting health problems have included the spreading of sexually transmitted infections, most notably HIV/AIDS complications related to pregnancies. The destruction of a population as well as the deterioration of social and economic structures resulted in a lack of support for women facing health issues after the genocide; the damage to societal infrastructure resulted in a severe shortage of healthcare services with women thus being unable to access the care they needed.. Additionally, sexual violence  can have lasting psychological and mental health implications. Furthermore, the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war in Rwanda led to high levels of unwanted pregnancies,resulting in serious mental and physical health complications due to attempts to self-induce and self-manage abortion care without medical supervision. In cases where abortion was not carried out, child abandonment and infanticide became common. These children are referred to as children of bad memories or children of hate, creating a generation of Rwandans who have been constructed by society as products of the genocide. Societies rejection of these children has thus induced an additional layer of trauma resulting from the genocide, a generational one. Additionally, the social stigma associated with sexual violence in Rwanda has further contemporarily impacted Rwandan women and girls. The stigma caused women to be ostracised from their communities, pushing them towards poverty. Furthermore, women who were victims of sexual violence during the genocide are at a higher risk of facing sexual violence post-conflict, demonstrating the lasting and disproportional impact of the genocide on women’s lives.

Consequences of Demographic Shifts 

After the Rwandan Genocide, the remaining population was predominantly women, as many Rwandan men had been subject to mass killings. As a result of this, women were left to bear both the burden of the genocidal trauma and the responsibility of post-conflict rebuilding.  This burden was further exacerbated by  the legal limitations facing Rwandan women and girls. USAID has cited the most serious consequences of the demographic shift for women including expanded familial responsibilities and political roles in the face of a high prevalence of poverty and the minimal education and literacy of women. Despite the fact that women made up the majority of the population after the genocide, the patriarchy was still a pervasive force within both the economic and legal structures in Rwanda. Inheritance law was particularly discriminatory, meaning that many women and daughters who had lost their husbands and fathers had no legal claim to their land, homes, or bank accounts. Additionally, women were unable to claim their late husbands’ pensions. Women looking to rebuild their lives post-genocide were therefore hit with legal limitations, adding significant financial constrictions to their existing post-conflict difficulties.

Contemporary Relevance

In spite of the travesties faced by Rwandan women during the genocide, they have played a key role in  rebuilding  the Rwandan state,  including through their  incorporation into the contemporary political sphere. The restructuring of the Rwandan state included a new 2003 Constitution, which required that at least 30% of parliamentary seats must be held by women, improving their presence within both Rwandan politics and public policy. Rwanda has resultantly been recognised for women’s rights on multiple levels including being named the number one country for women in leadership positions as well as being included in the top ten countries for women’s rights by the United Nations in 2020. 

However, despite this progress, the negative impacts of the genocide on women continue to linger. Women continue to face astonishing rates of sexual violence with minimal legal or medical assistance therefore subjecting them to many of the same reproductive and mental health burdens faced during the genocide. This can be considered a result of the politicisation of sexual violence during the genocide and thus represents the lasting impacts of gender based violence on women and girls, even those who have no memory of the genocide are still facing its impacts. Additionally, UN Women reports that there is a large gender data gap, making it difficult to assess the status of women’s rights, specifically where it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).This makes it impossible to fully analyse post-conflict impacts on women and girls, meaning that gendered impacts may be much more severe than can be deduced from the available data.


The 100-day Rwandan Genocide had a catastrophic impact on women, subjecting many of them to lifetimes of trauma as well as implementing generational trauma. The disproportionate impact of genocide on women stems primarily from the prevalence of sexual violence as well as  demographic shifts following the mass killings of many Rwandan men. While women have made impressive strides towards equality, they continue to face many of the consequences of the 1994 genocide demonstrating that gender based impacts of genocide last long beyond the end of conflict.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: