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The fabric of Rwandan organizations after the civil war of April 1994

1 - Women’s NGOs

Florence DA SILVA

08 / 1995

Besides the many foreign NGOs operating on its territory (over a hundred), Rwanda above all benefits from the dynamism of a large number of local organizations. Founded before or immediately after the genocide of 1994, these organizations take different forms. We have identified two main categories: the Rwandan NGOs, which are very institutionalised, diverse and often of national scale regarding their objectives; and grassroots community and local groups made up of a small number of people who wish to start or develop a micro-project to generate income in the immediate locality. Most of the Rwandan NGOs support these grassroots groups methodologically, financially and with human resources. This usually entails credit in the form of cash or in kind to start an activity or improve their operating conditions (purchase of farm equipment, seeds, water pumps).

The Rwandan women’s NGOs

The NGOs that existed before the war have either taken up, or are trying to take up, their previous activities. For the most part, these cover economic, legal and social issues and they are particularly attached to rural development and improving the condition of women. Whatever their primary goal, all these organizations set up an emergency action plan after the war and they generally develop programs in favour of sectors of the population stricken by the war: children, especially orphans and unaccompanied children; women, particularly widows and rape victims; elderly single persons and the physically handicapped. If no structured program exists, the organization supports those of its members who have suffered greatly during the war on an informal basis, by, for example, purchasing medicines, finding money for educating an orphan looked after by another person, and quite simply meeting, speaking and helping each other.

1 - Women’s and children’s rights. The HAGURUKA organization for the protection of women’s and children’s rights has existed since 1991. Up to 1994, it gave legal assistance, either in the form of advice, or by following a case up to the hearing in the law courts. Informing and making women and girls aware of their rights and their value in society, as well as providing education, were the two main directions of HAGURUKA’s work. The complexity of the problems increased after the war and once again women and children were those most affected. Consequently, the association took on two new tasks. The first entailed rehabilitation, meaning emergency material and financial aid, and rebuilding houses. The second task is giving social-legal assistance to unaccompanied children. Although they are not specialists in this field, Hagaruku’s members also give social and psychological assistance, since the language of law is worthless if it is not integrated in actions of production (survival)and support (fighting through in spite of everything). In particular, Hagaruku is preparing the setting up of a permanent psychological assistance service for women rape victims. However, the legal difficulties of women and children after the war also concern heritages, successions, the responsibility for orphans, the management of the orphans’ property, etc.

2 - Women entrepreneurs. DUTERIMBEE ("let’s take the lead")was founded in 1987 to promote women in small businesses. To support the community and the African family, this organization favours the integration of women in economic development by giving them access to bank loans or by granting loans itself. These loans are accompanied by training on how to choose a profitable project, its management and how to save. Before the war, besides their own activities, women had other sources of revenue for their families. Henceforth, 70% of them are widows. They must not only meet the needs of what remains of their family, but also those of the orphans and unaccompanied children they look after. Thus Duterimbee faces a flood of demands for finance: small businesses, craftwork, farming, livestock breeding, dressmaking, bricks, tiles, etc. Furthermore, confronted by the magnitude of the destruction and pillage caused by the war, the organisation has had to support the re-equipping of homes. Although certain families have been able to retrieve their houses, the latter had been emptied of all their furniture and material (not a single plate or saucepan)and even robbed of children’s clothes.

3 - Women first. A large number of organizations have been set up by and for Rwandan women, to promote women in society, legally, economically and socially. About thirty of them have formed the Pro Femmes Twese Hamwe cooperative which permits contacting bigger financing organisations and the redistribution of aid to the member organizations. Grouped together in this structure, the NGOs are able to consider in-depth the situation of Rwandan woman and analyse the aftermath of the war. Pro-Femmes also makes proposals to foreign NGOs, financiers and the government. It represents Rwandan organizations at national, regional and international meetings devoted to women, such as the Regional Conference on Women at Dakar in 1995. In principal, this cooperative does not intervene in the field itself. However, the consequences of the war have pushed it to organize an Action Campaign for Peace.

There are many of these women’s organizations and mention cannot be made of all them (Seruka, Asofera, etc.). Some of them have been set up in exile, such as Benimpuhwe, founded in Burundi by women belonging to the first great wave of refugees in 1959. Some of them were specifically founded to solve problems related to the sequel of war, such as AVEGA, the organisation of war widows of April 1994. These organisations are sometimes still at an embryonic stage, but they all want to rebuild Rwanda in peace and tolerance. It is in this spirit that the following was written in the Women’s Network newsletter of June 1995: "Dear women members of the network, do not despair! Take heart, life continues in spite of everything. Do not forget that everything depends on us, family responsibilities, our children’s education, rebuilding the country, the search for peace! (...)Let us work and take the lead. Take heart and good luck!" It is not easy to start working again after having lost everything, including one’s children, to want to rebuild when one is aware that another war could ruin everything tomorrow.

Key words

ethnic conflict, association, woman, NGO, woman and violence, women’s organization, solidarity

, Rwanda


Personal contact : Florence DA SILVA : 89-91 rue Pelleport 75020 Paris, France. These lines are the result of observations and interviews with the quoted associations and many others in July and August 1995. Original text in French in this data base.


Original text


ERM (Enfants Réfugiés du Monde) - 34 rue Gaston Lauriau, 93512 Montreuil cedex, FRANCE - Tél. : 33 (0)1 48 59 60 29 - France - erm (@)

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