Godelieve Mukasarasi lost her husband and their daughter. In spite of her tragic story, the 60-year-old is still motivated by her “vision of happy women”. Godelieve’s commitment is to the women and children who suffer from the consequences of the genocide in Rwanda. She knows each of their stories. And sometimes this helps her to forget her own fate.
23 years have passed since the war in Rwanda but there remains a feeling that nothing is permanent. In 1994 images of the cruel genocide reached people all over the world. Over the course of 100 days, members of the Hutu majority killed at least 500,000 people. These included members of the Tutsi minority as well as moderate Hutus who refused to take part in the genocide or even actively opposed it.
As in all wars, sexualised violencewas also deployed strategically during this conflict as a means of spreading fear, demonstrating power and weakening the enemy. More than 250,000 women and girls were raped and injured. Two out of three rape survivors were infected with the HIV virus. “The hearts of these women were broken three times,” says Godelieve Mukasarasi. “Once by the genocide, once by the rape and once by AIDS.”
The effects of the violence can still be felt, and it is an official political topic in today’s Rwanda. The country is relatively emancipated, but women still frequently suffer from social ostracism, since sexualised violence is generally seen as a personal disgrace for the one who was raped. Especially if she then gave birth to a child. The long-term support for survivors is still inadequate and the women are generally left to themselves to cope with the consequences, such as traumatisation and physical secondary diseases.
Her own fate determined her actions to benefit other women
Godelieve’s heart was also broken and she is also still struggling to deal with the consequences of the genocide. Together with her husband Emmanuel Rudasingwa and their children, she lived in the Rwandan municipality of Taba when the war began. Godelieve and Emmanuel decided to testify in the International Criminal Court for Rwanda against Jean Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of Taba. However, shortly before their planned appearance in court in 1996, Emmanuel was murdered, together with their daughter Angélique. Godelieve believes this was an act of vengeance carried out by returning Hutu militia.
The devout Christian had already set up the aid organisation SEVOTA two years before this – shortly after the end of the genocide. The objects of “Solidarité pour l’Epanouissement des Veuves et des Orphelins visant le Travail et l’Autopromotion” include reconciliation between the warring ethnic groups.
Continuing in spite of anger and sadness
Although cruel murders were committed against her family by the former enemies, Godelieve continued to believe in her vision and work with SEVOTA. “I was in church when I saw images of the suffering of women, but also of their laughter, openness and ‘bearing witness’, which inspired me to set up SEVOTA ,” says Godelieve.
She did not want to get stuck in mourning and sadness, but instead she wanted to look forward and keep being active. And she is not the only one who has declared a long-term commitment to her organisation: medica mondiale has been a project partner for almost ten years. Godelieve tells us about this cooperation: “At SEVOTA, we work with widows and orphans, as well as with women who gave birth to children conceived as they were raped during the genocide. medica mondiale provides a range of support to our activities: specialist and strategic advice, capacity building, supervisory support and the mobilisation of funds.”
“The commitment of everyone working for SEVOTA is so unique, as is the intense feeling of solidarity and belonging among the women,” says a colleague from Cologne who has been supporting the project for several years. “For example, there are the visits to mothers who were once forced out of their community because they gave birth to an ‘enemy’ child and brought it up. No one congratulated them or gave them any support before or during the birth. The women’s groups make up for this and come with gifts – even when the child is now grown up.”
Background to the medica mondiale series “Women’s rights heroines in the focus”
Truly equal rights for women and men are still not reality – anywhere in the world. But without them there cannot be an end to sexualised wartime violence and there will not be peace – anywhere in the world. During the year we will present remarkable women and men from all over the world who have been or are active in the fight for the rights of women. We do this to pay tribute to their individual efforts and achievements, and also to remind us all that active commitment is still needed if we are to achieve gender justice and an end to sexualised violence.
Further women’s rights heroines:
Right from the start there has been a close connection between the histories of the foundation Kvinna till Kvinna from Stockholm and medica mondiale from Cologne.
Twenty-five years ago, the historian Gabi Mischkowski received a telephone call from Monika Hauser offering to help her support women caught up in the Bosnian war. That call marked the beginning of the story of medica mondiale, the women’s rights organisation.
Women’s rights heroine Godelive Kanyamuneza: “People need to learn that every single person is valuable.