In order to understand women participation in the genocide, there is need to accept their gender relations in the pre- genocide Rwandan society. In traditional Rwandan society, a woman was described as a symbol of ‘fertility’ and ‘weakness’ while on the other hand, a man was seen as a symbol of strength and protection thereby making major decisions.

In Rwandan society, women performed both traditional and political roles.These traditional roles in the family included the following:

  • Childrearing
  • Managing the household
  • Advising their husbands
  • Educating the children
  • Maintaining traditions
  • Welcoming visitors

In addition, boys were taught to defend family interests and nation whereas girls were groomed to help their mothers in the household chores. Also they learned obedience, respect, politeness and submission.

In the pre- genocide Rwanda, women were poorer than men. This is due to the fact that they conducted 65- 70% of agricultural work including heavy work like carrying water and fetching firewood.

                 Genocidal women and their role

Women played a role of perpetrators or monsters in the genocide. However, the following are categories of women who participated in the genocide:

  • Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
  • Agathe Habyarimana
  • Sister Julienne Kizito
  • Sister Gertrude Mukangango
  • Rose Karushara
  • Odette Nyirabagenzi
  • Athanasie Mukabatana

Role in the genocide

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko:- She played a leading role in planning and implementation of the genocide. She was the minister for Family and Women’s Development. During the genocide, she publicly incite the Hutus to exterminate Tutsi population and provided weapons to the militia groups and some civilians.

Agathe Habyarimana:- She was the former president’s wife and Pauline’s close childhood friend, who was the key mastermind in the genocide. She played a role of direct planning of the genocide. Due to her power, influence and money, she established a media in Rwanda that became an essential propaganda tool which urged the masses to kill the Tutsis.

Rose Karushara:- She was a councilor in Kigali who played an active role in the genocide. She ordered at least 5000 people to be killed and later thrown into Nyabarongo river.

Sister Julienne Kizito:- She was a Catholic nun who played key role in the genocide.She was accused of working directly with the killers in Butare and massacred refugees. In addition, she provided jerrycans filled with petroleum which will be used to burn people alive.

Odette Nyirabagenzi:- Also referred to as ‘ terror of Rugenge’ . During the genocide, she sent her militia in pursuit of Tutsi men of Rugenge. Her thugs hunted for Tutsi men in St Famille and St Paul’s parishes. She was physically present when Tutsi men were taken out of churches and CELA and massacred . She also took an active part in selecting men who were to die.

Athanasie Mukabatana:- She was a teacher at a nursing school who went to hospital with other perpetrators and ordered sick Tutsi people outside where they were killed by use of machete and left dead on grass outside the hospital. In addition, she not only drag  sick Tutsi people but also killed them with a machete.

       Atrocities committed to women

Despite the involvement of women in the genocide, women also became the most vulnerable and the victims of the conflict. However, the following are the atrocities that women faced during the genocide:

  1. Sexual violence
  2. Rape
  3. Murder
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