Women Hurting, Women Healing: Women’s Paths of Healing the Wounds of Sexual & Gender-Based Violence Following the Rwandan Genocide.

Shae Keane, East Tennessee State University


This project focuses on the ways in which women heal the wounds of sexual trauma, specifically those who experienced sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. There is an even more specific focus placed on the nuances of paths of healing for women in rural areas versus those in urban areas. Thus, for this study, 3 women, two women from rural areas and one woman from the urban city of Kigali, all of whom are survivors of sexual violence during the 1994 genocide, participated in individual interviews. Also, a focus group discussion took place in the rural town of Nyanza, in the Southern Province, in which 15 women, ages 29 to 61 participated. Furthermore, information was gathered from an interview with Abatoni Jane Gatete, a counselor who has worked in the realm of women’s trauma healing related to SGBV after the 1994 genocide and is a founding member of the first national training of trauma counselors in Rwanda. In addition, the three women who participated in individual interviews and the 15 women who participated in the women’s trauma healing focus group, also participated in filling out questionnaires related to the topic, resulting in a total of 18 questionnaires.

The topic of this project was chosen because of the limited body of knowledge and relatively limited awareness related to the unique experiences of women and girls in times of conflict, warfare, and genocide, particularly the prevalence and scale of massive sexual and gender-based violence committed against the female person. Even more limited is the body of information based directly on women’s own thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences related to SGBV in times of conflict, and the healing processes that follow.

The findings of this study contribute to better understanding the ways in which Rwandan women define sexual trauma, healing, and recovery, and the important roles that they can and do play for one another and for themselves in their own processes of healing— both individual and community. Findings are meant to be supportive of the growing movement towards ending sexual violence against women and, concomitantly, ending the global culture of impunity for these crimes. Perhaps most importantly, this project is meant to contribute to a more balanced awareness of the overwhelming violation and trauma that women suffer, but so too, the powerful ways in which women rise above circumstance, unify, and inspire recovery within themselves and the world around them. Women are hurting, yet it is undeniable that, so too, are women healing.