Rwandan Women Rising
By Swanee Hunt
Foreword by Jimmy Carter
448 pages, 116 color illustrations
$34.95/£29.99 hardcover • ISBN: 978-0-8223-6257-9
$34.95/£29.99 e-book • ISBN: 978-0-8223-7356-8
In the spring of 1994, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was ripped apart by a genocide that left nearly a million dead. Neighbors attacked neighbors. Family members turned against their own. After the violence subsided, Rwanda’s women—drawn by the necessity of protecting their families—carved out unlikely new roles for themselves as visionary pioneers creating stability and reconciliation in genocide’s wake. Today, 64 percent of the seats in Rwanda’s elected house of parliament are held by women, a number unrivaled by any other nation.
When Rwandan women helped save their country after genocide, they created a model for lasting security in countries worldwide.
While news of the Rwandan genocide reached all corners of the globe, the nation’s recovery and the key role of women are less well known. In Rwandan Women Rising, Swanee Hunt shares the stories of some seventy women—heralded activists and unsung heroes alike—who overcame unfathomable brutality, unrecoverable loss, and unending challenges to rebuild Rwandan society. Hunt, who has worked with women leaders in sixty countries for over two decades, points out that Rwandan women did not seek the limelight or set out to build a movement; rather, they organized around common problems such as health care, housing, and poverty to serve the greater good. Their victories were usually in groups and wide ranging, addressing issues such as rape, equality in marriage, female entrepreneurship, reproductive rights, education for girls, and mental health.
These women’s accomplishments provide important lessons for policy makers and activists who are working toward equality elsewhere in Africa and other post-conflict societies. Their stories, told in their own words via interviews woven throughout the book, demonstrate that the best way to reduce suffering and to prevent and end conflicts is to elevate the status of women throughout the world.
Praise for Rwandan Women Rising
“As Director of the Africa Bureau of the United Nations Development Program, I had the sad experience of visiting Rwanda after the genocide. Women with families torn apart bore their suffering with strength as they organized to be the catalyst for their country’s renewal. Today, 64 percent of Rwanda’s Parliament are women, and they provide exceptional leadership in regional institutions. For a dozen years, Swanee Hunt and I have been finding ways to raise the voices of women in my country. Rwandan Women Rising is a new guidebook for a journey toward justice, a journey beyond Liberia that holds the promise of global change, empowering women to create a more secure world for us all.”
—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia
“This is an excellent book! It is an honest, authentic, and thoughtful representation of how Rwandan women experienced the narratives of their lives and country. Swanee Hunt’s unique voice and experience shows how the story of one nation becomes meaningful and applicable to the rest of the world. This is a page turner and an essential read for anybody interested in social change and women’s rights beyond Rwanda.”
—Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women International, author, and media host
“This is an extremely valuable contribution to the understanding of peacemaking and peace building. It is a powerful account by Rwandan women who rose to reform their nation’s society and government. They tell of their struggles, achievements, and still unfinished agendas. Ambassador Hunt draws on her extensive research and experience to provide a thoughtful analysis of women’s roles in conflict and reconciliation, with lessons well beyond Rwanda. This book is a work of love for Swanee Hunt, who for decades has befriended, encouraged, and supported these women and others like them who have stood up to violence and advocated for peace.”
—Ambassador Princeton Lyman
“Ambassador Swanee Hunt is a remarkable, passionate, and courageous public servant for our country and the world. Her commitment to women’s rights, human rights, and human dignity is unsurpassed. In this timely new book, Rwandan Women Rising, Hunt uncovers lessons about how courageous women helped to rebuild a nation shattered by genocide. These are human stories worthy of our attention and admiration.”
—Ambassador Nicholas Burns
From the Preface
“Hundreds of conversations I’ve had over the past sixteen years reveal an untold tale. Laden with personal burdens but driven by an ethic of responsibility, women stepped forward. In villages, mothers made sure bodies were buried. One initiated a countrywide adoption program that found homes for nearly 100,000 children whose parents were murdered. The stories of Rwandan women are awe inspiring in their passion and startling in their pragmatism.
“The people around me were women, says Father Emmanuel, a newly ordained priest who had lost his family in the genocide. His first posting after seminary was to a rural parish. Their church had been burned, then bulldozed, with hundreds of desperate people inside. Women helped me reconstruct the parish, physically and in terms of the community. The way I saw it, men were more affected by the violence, even though I think women suffered more. Afterward, men couldn’t do much. Women saw that they had no alternative.
“As chaos cracked open the culture, women were no longer confined to holding positions of influence solely in their homes. Given the urgent needs pressing all around them, they expanded their leadership at a revolutionary pace. Still, this wasn’t a feminist uprising by design.”