Women working for peace in Rwanda: "We are considered role models because we are peacebuilders" 

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 of March, this year, Rwanda is also observing the 30th commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi, which destroyed unity and trust among Rwandans. It has been a long and challenging road to rebuild and improve unity, resilience and social cohesion which continues today, involving the hard work and dedication of people across Rwanda. Women play a crucial role.

Woman Dufatanye Urumuri project community facilitator leading a therapy dialogue session.

Through our Dufatanye Urumuri project in partnership with ARCT Ruhuka and funded by USAID, women facilitate open and inclusive dialogue in their communities and gender equality is at the heart of the project. Seven out of 10 field officers are women, and there is an equal split of women and men who are community facilitators for the project, which directly supports over 20,000 people and indirectly over 1.6 million.

Joselyne Mukabarisa is a field officer who oversees the Rulindo cluster made of three districts namely Rulindo, Gicumbi and Gakenke. She has been offering the service of psychosocial support and trauma healing since 2011.

Joselyne Mukabarisa is a field officer in Rwanda
Joselyne Mukabarisa, field officer overseeing the Rulindo cluster.

Our work is more than a profession. It is a passion. Considering the efforts that we make to facilitate the reconciliation between the perpetrators of the genocide against Tutsi and the victims of this genocide, it is a very difficult task.

“In fact, some of the people we approach, are initially resistant to our programmes but gradually get persuaded. In the end, when our therapy group members get healed from historical wounds, I become overwhelmed with joy,” says Joselyne. She adds that the delight of seeing her therapy group members graduate makes her forget the challenges they face.

“Sometimes it rains while we are walking in a place without shelter to reach the participants who live in remote locations with impracticable roads, approaching people once, twice and more in vain while explaining how real reconciliation can be embraced. All these challenges get cancelled when an offender and victim who could not meet and greet or do anything together come together to testify the strides made as a result of our project therapy sessions,” reveals Joselyne.

This year, Dufatanye Urumuri project has extended its activities from residences to schools in order to deal with intergenerational trauma among the youth. Rose Ingabire, a community facilitator at Kiziguro Secondary School, Gatsibo district, expresses the impact of female community facilitators on the students they support:

We are considered as advisors and girl students look up to us as their role models because we are peacebuilders.

Rose Ingabire, a community facilitator at Kiziguro Secondary School, Gatsibo District.

Chantal Umubyeyi is a field officer overseeing the USAID Dufatanye Urumuri project activities in the Gasabo cluster comprised of Gasabo and Kicukiro districts of Kigali City and Bugesera district. She has been using her psychosocial support and trauma counselling skills to support reconciliation since 2003.

Chantal Umubyeyi, a field officer overseeing USAID Dufatanye Urumuri project activities

She believes that the role of women in the recovery of Rwanda following the genocide against the Tutsi, has been tremendous. “By experience, I affirm that we as women play a big role in the journey of Rwandans’ reconciliation and trauma healing. During clinical supervision, we treat cases that can’t be dealt with by men.”

For instance, we had many gender-based violence (GBV) cases during the genocide as rape was used as a weapon of war. In this perspective, women are open only to us when it comes to talk about the rape and other GBV crimes they endured.

Further, she explains that the role female community facilitators play has given them an important value in Rwandan society, challenging the historical cultural view which undervalued the power of women.

Today, because of the observation of our performance in various responsibilities, we are trusted, no one can have bias on our capabilities unlike in the past when it was rare for women to stand for instance in front of a crowd including at least 1000 men and get their attention.

Woman Dufatanye Urumuri project facilitators and field officers in a training on narrative theatre, Muhanga, February 2024.
Woman Dufatanye Urumuri project facilitators and field officers in a training on narrative theatre, Muhanga, February 2024.

Rose Ingabire, Joselyne Mukabarisa and Chantal Umubyeyi lauded the government of Rwanda for creating a favourable working environment for women to break the gender barrier, enabling them to maximise their potential.

Rwanda was ranked among the top 10 countries in 2020 to have narrowed the gender gap (Global Gender Gap Report 2020).

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