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02 April 2010

SEVOTA in Rwanda: Forum of hope

Project sponsorship in Kigali, Rwanda:During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, an estimated 250,000 women and girls were raped and maimed, and many were killed. Quite a few have given birth to the children of the men who raped them, and as a result they are struggling not only with the consequences of violence, war, and destruction, but also with feelings of guilt and rejection towards their unwanted daughters and sons.

The Rwandan organisations Kanyarwanda and SEVOTA (Solidarité pour l’Epanouissement des Veuves et des Orphelins visant le Travail et l’Auto promotion) are combating the suffering of these women with active help. Together they set up the women’s forum Abiyubaka (Engl.: People who help each other), which offers support to about 30 women and their children to deal with both everyday problems and their traumatic experiences. In 2007 another women’s forum was founded under the name Bizeye (en: hope). medica mondiale has been sponsoring these project partners since 2008.

Consequences of genocide

Nearly a million people were murdered during the genocide in Rwanda. In a mere 100 days between April and July of 1994, members of the Hutu majority murdered around 75 percent of the Tutsi living in Rwanda and moderate Hutu as well. Sexualised wartime violence was employed as a tactic for spreading fear and for demonstrating power. According to the United Nations children’s organisation UNICEF, the estimated number of raped women and girls lies somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 – precise figures are not known. Most of them were murdered after they were raped, bur some of the survivors became unwilling mothers as a result of the acts of sexualised violence; official estimates range from 2000 to 5000 children, the number of unreported cases is undoubtedly much higher.

Support for survivors of sexualised violence

Since the genocide ended, the Rwandan human rights organisations KANYARWANDA and SEVOTA have been providing support to widows and orphans of the genocide. In a joint project, the organisations offer support and psychosocial counselling particularly to women who were raped during or after the war, and to their children whom they brought into the world as a consequence of rape.

Although tens of thousands of women suffered this brutal violence, rape is still considered taboo and a disgrace in Rwanda. The mothers not only have to live with the traumatic consequences of violence, war and destruction, but also with feelings of guilt and rejection toward their unwanted children. They are often unable to accept them like the other children in the family, so many children born out of rape grow up under considerable hardship. Most of the affected children show signs of mental traumatisation and neglect – this was shown by a study that KANYARWANDA and SEVOTA conducted in 2005/2006 with 27 women and their children. In their social environment – the extended families of mothers and communities – these children also frequently suffer open discrimination and are disadvantaged when it comes to education or healthcare, for example.

"Abiyubaka" and "Abiyubaka Bizeye" - a forum for women

2005 KANYARWANDA and SEVOTA created the Abiyubaka women’s forum – the name Abiyubaka means "People who help each other". Once every two months a total of 30 women from various regions of Rwanda convene for a meeting in the capital Kigali. All of them were raped during or after the genocide and have given birth to children of the men who raped them. A second women’s forum – Abiyubaka Bizeye – was created in 2007, offering support to another 30 women.

During the two-day meetings, the women have the opportunity to talk with each other about difficulties with their children, families, or in their social environment. Learning that they are not alone with their experiences – in particular the feelings of guilt toward their children – gives them strength and renewed courage to take charge of their own lives. In addition to the open discussion groups, a trauma expert offers the women therapeutic counselling. In individual and group sessions, they are able to come to terms with their own history and broach the issue of their frequently troubled relationship with their children. Role playing games in which the women re-enact the experiences of individual participants have proven to be especially beneficial. Together the women look for solutions and learn to accept their situation better.

Around 200 women and children were able to participate on a regular basis in the total of twelve meetings sponsored by medica mondiale in 2008 and 2009. The expenses for travel, lodging, meals and rent for the meeting rooms were covered, as were the costs of coordinators and counsellors.

For the future, KANYARWANDA and SEVOTA are planning to develop a nationwide support network for women rape victims and their children, collaborating with various contact points and counselling centres.