The second instalment of Dan Moshenberg’s weekly posts (his first here) on that place where gender, Africa and media collide.–Sean Jacobs

By Dan Moshenberg

Let’s talk about Rwandan women.

Last Friday, June 24, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her son Arsene Ntahobali, were found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including multiple rapes of Tutsi women and girls. The two were tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania. The ICTR is a United Nations tribunal. Nyiramasuhuko was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was family affairs and women’s development minister in the administration of President Juvenal Habyarimana. By all accounts, Nyiramasuhuko, a Hutu, organized and led massacres, torture and mass rapes of Tutsi women and girls in the border town of Butare.

Nyiramasuhuko is the first woman to be found guilty of genocide by an international tribunal, and the Western news media had a field day: “Rwandan ex-minister becomes first woman convicted of genocide”: “Rwandan woman, a former govt minister, is first female convicted of genocide; son also guilty”. The BBC was particularly enchanted by the killer’s gender: “Rwanda genocide: Verdict due for female former minister”; “Profile: Female Rwandan killer Pauline Nyiramasuhu”. That’s one helluva glass ceiling.

When does being a Rwandan woman matter? When that woman is a killer, a rapist, a torturer, a `monster’. Not when she is an organizer and a healer.

Ask Chantal Kabasinga. Chantal Kabasinga is the President of AVEGA Agahozo, the Association des Veuves des Genocides, the Association of Widows of the Genocide. In 1995, barely a year after the end of the genocidal war, twenty-five widows started organizing. They started organizing their lives, their communities, their country, the world. They said, “Agahozo”. Agahozo is Kinyarwandan for “dry one’s tears.” They said, ““Que les cris des martyrs empechent le Silence et l’Oubli”. “Let not the screams of our martyrs lead to Silence and Forgetting.”

Today, AVEGA Agahozo numbers over 25,000 widows and over 71,000 dependents and orphans. On Thursday, June 23, AVEGA Agahozo was announced as the ninth, and final, recipient of the Gruber Foundation Women’s Rights Prize. The Foundation sent out a press release, which was picked up by Women News Network, and pretty much no one else, at least not among the so-called Western media.

Search for Chantal Kabasinga’s name in The Washington Post, The New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian, the Christian Science Monitor, and you’ll come up with nothing. But seek Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and ye shall find. Why? Why is one woman more important than 25,000? Because `the world’ loves African women monsters who sow the seeds of despair. Autonomous, independent African women organizers and healers, African women who create the material and living spaces of hope? Not so much.

Further Reading