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Gender-Based Violence and Submerged Histories: A Colonial Genealogy of Violence Against Tutsi Women in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

  • Author(s): Beyene, Helina Asmelash
  • Advisor(s): Hale, Sondra
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation is a genealogical study of gender-based violence (GBV) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A growing body of feminist scholarship argues that GBV in conflict zones results mainly from a continuum of patriarchal violence that is condoned outside the context of war in everyday life. This literature, however, fails to account for colonial and racial histories that also inform the politics of GBV in African conflicts. My project examines the question of the colonial genealogy of GBV by grounding my inquiry within postcolonial, transnational and intersectional feminist frameworks that center race, historicize violence, and decolonize knowledge production. I employ interdisciplinary methods that include (1) discourse analysis of the gender-based violence of Belgian rule and Tutsi women's iconography in colonial texts; (2) textual analysis of the constructions of Tutsi women's sexuality and fertility in key official documents on overpopulation and Tutsi refugees in colonial and post-independence Rwanda; and (3) an ethnographic study that included leading anti gendered violence activists based in Kigali, Rwanda, to assess how African feminists account for the colonial legacy of gendered violence in the 1994 genocide.

My findings reveal that highly sexualized colonial ideologies such as the Hamitic Hypothesis, not only marked the Tutsi population as non-indigenous, non-black invaders, but also codified Tutsi female sexuality and fertility as a beguiling, non-indigenous threat to the natural population of the land. The colonial era provided the lexicon that staged Tutsi sexuality within the blueprint of African indigeneity, which the post-independence Rwandan state reassembled in its discourses surrounding overpopulation, refugees and national security. Such discursive consolidation positioned Tutsi women's sexuality as biopolitical threats to the national security of the indigenous population, making them high stakes targets in state crises.

My ethnographic study further reveals that Rwandan activists offer explanations that capture the intersection of empire and patriarchy in the making of GBV in African conflicts like the Rwandan genocide of 1994. While Rwandan women's rights advocates tend to deploy human rights and patriarchy discourses like their western counterparts, the activists provide multiple and more complex articulations that historicize GBV and implicate sites that go beyond patriarchal culture alone. They identify the colonial, the post-colonial as well as the pre-colonial era as sites in the making of Tutsi rapability. The study calls for feminist interpretative frameworks that extend beyond single-axis explanation of GBV that do not naturalize the nation-state and resist global imperial expansion in the name of addressing GBV.

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