Thanks to Scott Straus, Leanne Fujii and others, we know quite a bit about how men behaved during the genocide in Rwanda. But we...

Thanks to Scott Straus, Leanne Fujii and others, we know quite a bit about how men behaved during the genocide in Rwanda. But we know surprisingly little about women’s actions during that crisis.

Sara Brown begins to remedy this in her excellent new study Gender and Genocide in Rwanda: Women as Rescuers and Perpetrators (Routledge, 2017). Sara spent months interviewing Rwandan women. The result is a thoughtful analysis of the role gender played in facilitating or discouraging rescue and violence. As Brown says in the interview, she starts by asking the most basic question: how many, where, how? From there she moves on to examine the way women’s choices were rooted in a historical context in which a few women possessed power but many ordinary women found their choices and actions constrained. Brown highlights the way in which women were empowered by the context of genocide. Some used this opportunity to (attempt to) save lives. Others used it to loot, to demand violence, or even to kill or to rape.

Brown ends her story by highlighting the way the same norms that had empowered, protected and betrayed women during the fighting shaped their lives after the genocide was over. It’s a sobering reminder of the power of gendered assumptions in the face of a breakdown of other social norms.

This podcast is part of an occasional series on the genocide in Rwanda. The series began with an interview with Michael Barnett. Future interviews will feature Erin Jessee, Tim Longman, Herman Salton and others.


Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994.

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