Godelieve Mukasarasi, the coordinator and founder of SEVOTA earned a prestigious award for her distinguished role in encountering challenges in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Born out of the need to restore the destroyed human relations SEVOTA has reached out about 300 genocide rape victims and more than 2,000 youth and children.
In December 1994, after witnessing suffering in the worst genocide of modern history Godelieve Mukasarasi established a non-profit organisation, SEVOTA (French acronym for Solidarity for Blossoming of Widows and Orphans) with an aim to restore human, social, and economic relations destroyed during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Through hard work and times, SEVOTA has reached out to over 300 genocide rape victims and more than 2,000 youth and children.
The organisation has helped them to reintegrate socially and economically into communities from Taba in Kamonyi District, Southern Province where it was first launched before its activities rolled out across eleven districts of the country.
“When I survived with some of my family, I made a promise to support others,” says Mukasarasi. She started with a few women giving them hope and socially reintegrating.
The selfless acts and courage of a few women at SEVOTA attracted the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the U.S. Department of State, where the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump presented an award to Mukasarasi as among the 10 extraordinary women from around the world.
The award is among the many for SEVOTA’s dedicated altruistic work, the Award recognises women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
“This award was indeed to the courageous women under the leadership of Godelieve Mukasarasi who advocated for international adoption of rape as a crime against humanity,” said Philomene Mutsobekazi, the Legal Representative of SEVOTA at the welcome reception of Mukasarasi from Washington DC, where she received the award said.
Mutsobekazi lauded the different organisations that have stood with SEVOTA in restoring women dignity and recognition of their rights. “Through our work we restored hope and built confidence of genocide rape victims and children born as a result of rape during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” she observed.
While in the United States, Mukasarasi also received the Global Innovator Award from Texas Christian University (TCU).
Mutsobekazi announced that, they are dedicating the awards to the youth and children. IWOC award was accompanied with a cash price of $5,000 while the award from TCU had a $25,000 cash price to which both will support different youth activities.
During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi women and girls were raped consequently leading to the birth of about 2,000 to 5,000 fatherless children.
Women victims of rape were affected by trauma and stress resulting from sexual violence and their born children became the “unwanted children”, often rejected by their mothers or relatives because they were identified or considered belonging to their father’s origin as the killers.
To improve this situation, SEVOTA dedicated to work towards rebuilding the human relationships and works across Rwanda focusing on widows and orphans and has helped to contribute to the improvement of the situation and living conditions of vulnerable households.
SEVOTA envisions a society where human dignity is valued and where men, women, and children support each other for their personal development. SEVOTA has the mission of contributing to an improvement of the moral, social, political, cultural, and economic living conditions of its beneficiaries.
Mukasarasi says. “We help our beneficiaries to organise themselves in order to evaluate their own problems and those of the community and to find suitable solutions.”
The organisation has the overall objective of promoting activities relating to peace, reconciliation, and the promotion of human rights specifically women’s rights and the policies concerning vulnerable children and youth, through the creation of a platform for dialogue and capacity-building.
Through support to social groups, community mobilisation, Information, education, communication and participatory research and lobbying, SEVOTA empowers those social groups in different activities like farming, handicraft, capacity building, income generating projects and post traumatic counselling.
They mobilise communities towards a culture of peace, active non-violence, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts. Through reinstigating the positive values of Rwandan culture based on solidarity, mutual assistance and quality education for the young generation.
The improvement of care and education of orphans, vulnerable children and the youth born of rape is among the main goals of the organisation. Sustainable programs like building capacity and organising activities that encourage personal development and mutual support among traumatised women and victims of violence is also among the top targets.
When SEVOTA had just started work, they were approached by different researchers and activists who wanted to know what women had passed through during the difficult situation in Rwanda and how they could help.
In 1996, to prosecute the former Mayor of Taba Jean-Paul Akayesu for his role in the Genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) approached SEVOTA, through difficult conditions and circumstances these women overcome intimidation and testified.
Rape had never been prosecuted as a war crime until the conviction of Akayesu and it was Mukasarasi and her colleagues who gave women a voice and achieved justice for their acts at the ICTR.
SEVOTA has been applauded by different stakeholders and recognised by His Excellency, President Paul Kagame and the First Lady who met members of SEVOTA during the launch of a documentary film ‘The Uncondemned’ produced by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel. The documentary is about the first time rape was prosecuted as a crime of war since 1919 when it was labelled as one but until 1997 when a group of prosecutors, activists and investigators went after the first conviction at the ICTR.
Among other awards, Mukasarasi received the John Humphrey Freedom Award by Law & Democracy(2004); the Outstanding Achievement Award for Rural Women’s Creativity Award from the World Women’s Summit Foundation in Geneva (1996); and, SEVOTA was honoured with the Award for Human Rights for its contribution to the promotion of the rights of vulnerable women by Human Rights International (2011). In October 1996, she was given the Prize for Women’ Creativity in Rural Life from the Women’s World Summit Foundation.
From local to national level, Mukasarasi has been bestowed as the ‘Umurinzi w’igihango’ from her home district of Kamonyi for her exceptional work in rebuilding the Rwandan society and was also awarded the Nzambazamariya Vénéranda Award, a Rwandan prize for an individual promoting a positive image for women. As Rwandans prepare for the 24 commemoration of Genocide against the Tutsi, SEVOTA calls on the International Community and the UN Security Council in particular to adopt a resolution on Children born of rapes committed in war and conflict-torn regions, which shall determine the roles of all actors, including governments in the protection of their rights.
SEVOTA is supported by Medica Mondiale, a Germany non-profit making organisation to promote programmes aimed at ensuring psychological, physical, and socioeconomic integration of households of women and young girls who were victims of sexual violence in conflict-torn zones, and other vulnerable households faced with gender-based violence.