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Suffering and Recovery (3:09) Excerpt from film "Ladies First" July 2004
Recovery after the genocide meant that Hutus and Tutsis had to learn to interact with each other again. Churches played a role in fostering dialogue after the atrocities

Country: Rwanda
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  • You Go Girls

  • Rwanda
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    Guiding Questions
    1. How have the women of Rwanda taken control of the process of emotional recovery? What issues have they confronted in the process? How have their efforts benefited society?
    Background Essay
    Recovery after the genocide in Rwanda meant that the two warring ethnic groups - Hutus and Tutsis - had to learn to interact peacefully with each other again. The church played a strong role in fostering a dialogue between these two groups and starting the healing process.

    The history of Rwanda is a complex one, steeped in a legacy of shifting colonial powers and ethnic conflict. First colonized by Germany in the 1890s, Rwanda subsequently fell under Belgian rule in the aftermath of World War I. The European colonists helped to widen tribal resentments between two ethnic groups living in the area, the Hutus and Tutsis. In the early days of colonization, German and then Belgian authorities gave preferential privileges to Tutsis, who were in the minority in the population. But when Rwanda began to demand independence from Belgium in the late 1950s, the colonists shifted allegiance and backed the previously sublimated Hutus. Tutsi loyalists attempted to stop this shift by killing key Hutu leaders. The payback was swift and brutal, and the Hutus launched the first of several pogroms against Tutsi people. In the years that followed, waves of Tutsi refugees left the country. By 1990 there were approximately 600,000 Rwandans living in exile.

    In April 1994, Rwanda's then-powerful Hutu carried out a systematic slaughter of the Tutsi people. The aim was to stop invading Rwandan Tutsi revolutionaries and to remove their local support by liquidating their power base. The Hutu-led Mouvement Révolutionnaire Nationale pour le Développement (MRND — National Revolutionary Movement for Development) and its military carried out an attempt at genocide. In response, Tutsi revolutionaries took control of the country in July, stemming the violence. But in terms of genocide, most observers would agree that the Hutus were frighteningly successful — killing more than 800,000 people in a short three-month period.

    Ten years after this horrific atrocity, the country had much healing to do - but had also become a model of feminist opportunity. With so many male Rwandans killed off by the 1994 genocide, nearly seventy percent of the remaining population was female. Recent developments in the government and legislature to place women in positions of power upturned a long history of female disempowerment and have made Rwanda one of the most progressive nations in the world in terms of gender equity. Women now participate at every level of government and occupy almost half the seats in the national parliament.

    Few women were accused of participating in the genocide, but all were touched by it. When the killing stopped, Hutu and Tutsi women alike had to restart daily life and contact. At first, it was difficult for the Tutsi widows to even come face-to-face with the wives of their husband's accused killers and vice versa.

    We were afraid of Hutus and they were afraid of us. They killed my two sons who had just graduated. I don't have any sons anymore.

    It was hard for us to meet together, knowing that these genocide survivors were part of it. Every time I looked at them, I felt scared and I could sense hate in them towards me.

    I'm a Hutu married to a Tutsi husband. However, my oldest son was killed by Hutus. People from my ethnic group.

    The women began to meet at their local church. Their priest, Father Elias Kiwanuka, had been threatened and forced to flee for his life, returning to Rwanda after the genocide.

    I came back at the end of 1994. Dead bodies were still on the streets. People were homeless. Orphans were just homeless. People were looking at each other with bad eyes, with anger. People were still actually feeling the wounds in all aspects of human life.

    Some members of the clergy were implicated in the genocide, and many Catholics left the fold. But the church is trying to rebuild itself and heal the wounds of its parishioners in a country with 600,000 orphans and 400,000 widows.

    Slowly by slowly we made associations for orphans, association for widows but it was very difficult actually to make the widows of genocide meet women with husbands in prison or to make people sit together, the Hutu and the Tutsi, after that kind of atrocity.

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