Former studies on women’s roles during wars and conflicts focused more on women as victims of violence and inhumane acts which resulted to a limited understanding of their roles during and after conflicts. Women are considered weak and often the victims of unscrupulous behavior such as rapes and mutilations. This creates gender-based stereotypes that effectively leave other aspects of women and their involvement in the conflict unexplored.
The Rwandan genocide in 1994 showed that mobilization of an ethnic identity can be used as an instrument in the creation of a conflict that resulted to genocide. Elite officials manipulated and exploited ethnic identities to create a situation where they could exercise their power to achieve material, political, and social gains. The mass extermination was conducted by Hutu militia in their quest for power and domination over the country. The Tutsi tribe suffered heavy death toll from murder, torture and sexual violence.
Women and children were the ones who suffered great abomination. An analysis of the Rwandan genocide showed that women played varying roles during and after the conflict. Their participation challenged the traditional gender stereotypes on women. The genocide not only showed victimization of women but also showed women as perpetrators at the time of crisis. It also showed the important roles women partake in the reconciliation and peace building processes in Rwanda.
The case of Rwanda revealed the need to re-examine the traditional theories about the roles of women during and after the conflicts and it also showed how mobilization of ethnic identity was used as an instrument to initiate a conflict that affects both local and international communities. This research is aimed at exploring the different roles women played during and after the conflicts by citing the Rwandan genocide as an example as well as other genocides in history that shaped the world’s view on women and their role during the time of crisis.
Genocides in History and the Participation of Women Before studying the conflicting roles of women during conflicts, it is important to know how history shaped the female role models by examining some incidents of genocide. In this research, the genocide incident that happened in Rwanda in 1994 is being carefully studied to come up with the outright information focused mainly on the theories on ethnic identities embedded in the Rwandan history.
Other genocides in history are also examined and their differences and similarities were studied especially the involvement of women in any genocide cases. The Rwandan Genocide The mobilization of ethnic identities was considered to be one of the factors of the conflict that led to the Rwandan genocide and therefore important in the discussion on the roles of women during and after the event. There were several theories on ethnic identity which were analyzed by Blizzard (2005). The ethnic identity theories analyzed were the following: primordialism, constructivism, and instrumentalization.
Each has its own important contribution(s) in the Rwandan society transformations, especially the theory of instrumentalization. The first theory is about the ethnic identities believed to be “naturally given” or in other words, formed as part of a natural selection process where people join a certain society for biological reasons. This theory did explain the ancient history of the early settlers in the Great Lakes region. According to studies, three tribal units came into the region and settled. They were the Twa, Bahutu and Tutsi tribes.
The Twa, with a hunter-gatherer economy, were the oldest inhabitants of the region. Next to arrive were the Bahutu around the 1st century who had an agrarian economy. They displaced the Twa and established a local social organization. The next group was the Batutsi people who arrived between 12th and 15th century. The latter two groups dominated the land; the Batutsi as the ruling class, which was further reinforced with the establishment of a monarchy, and the Bahutu who tended the local affairs of villages and communities where they belong.
During the pre-colonial period, intermarriage and social interaction was very common among the tribes. As a result, they formed a single solid culture which was the idea of the ethnic identity as “primordial”. However, this theory did not explain the sequences of events during the 1994 massacre. There were no plausible reasons for the ethnic identities to fight against each other. In fact, before the colonial period, they lived in a single solid culture where the people spoke the same language and exchanged cultural traditions, such as dance and spirituality.