By Chiun Min Seah
On this 2019 International Women’s Day, we shine the light on Rwandan genocide survivors of sexual violence. Around 1 million people were murdered during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in the east-central African nation of Rwanda. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped only within the time period of three months. Even after the genocide ended, the horrific repercussions of sexual violence haunted the survivors, including being stigmatised, faced with impossible situations such as unwanted pregnancies, and infected with sometimes fatal sexually transmitted diseases.
In spite of the terrible consequences that these survivors have to endure, there is something that is unequivocally crystal clear. They are not broken human beings buffeted by brutal and despondent fate of humanity’s savagery. They are not another miserable tragedy that the world would conveniently forget about after some detached words of acknowledgement of their unfortunate circumstance. In the face of their hardship long after the genocide, these survivors have fought many internal wars to rebuild their lives with nothing more than their sheer willpower and indomitable resilience.
IMPACT was formed with mandates to tackle issues relating to sexual violence during armed conflicts and human trafficking. One of our projects is the book And I Live On: The Resilience of Rwandan Genocide Survivors of Sexual Violence which supports Rwandan genocide survivors of sexual violence. This second edition is a sequel of the book The Men Who Killed Me 2.0 and aims to help give the survivors a platform to share their voices and experiences.
Rape and sexual violence are not “inevitable by-products of war” and the trials and tribulations that victims and survivors continue to bear are exemplified in the book. And I Live On calls attention to the survivors’ remarkable strength, exceptional courage, and resilience in facing the taint of being survivors of sexual violence and people living with HIV through their powerful testimonials of the genocide 15 and 25 years after the 1994 genocide. Their stories are complemented by compelling portraits which Samer Muscati captured as pictures are worth a thousand words. After everything the survivors have lived through, despair and hopeless do not define their story. They choose their own ending and it is one of hope and infinite fortitude.
All of us must realise and stand to fight against these issues, then one day, we could live in a world with respect and understanding, a world that is free of violence; and one where conflict-related sexual violence no longer transpires.
Today, IMPACT chooses to honour all women in the world, full of courage, determination, and passion to strive for a better global society. Today, IMPACT especially celebrates Rwandan genocide survivors of sexual violence who are reclaiming their lives, integrity, dignity, and will not stop until everyone hears and acknowledges their experiences and chooses to act to prevent these crimes from happening again.
Happy International Women’s Day and let us all #MakeAnIMPACT together!