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Why survivors should be at the centre of discussions on genocide and gender violence

By Samira Sadeque

Women and young girls are disproportionately affected by conflict and genocide, and that is why they should be a central part of conversations on the issue, according to Jacqueline Murekatete, a Rwandan survivor of genocide and founder and President of the Genocide Survivors Foundation (GSF).

“Survivors need to be invited to the table to share their testimonies,” Murekatete told IPS. “When people hear personal stories they’re more likely to want to get involved. It makes a huge difference to have their testimony.”

It’s also crucial for the narrative to distinguish between women survivors and survivors who are young girls in order to highlight the nuances of how young girls are affected when they are subject to sexual violence at a tender age, she said.

“I have friends who were raped at the age of nine. A nine-year-old child being raped and some of them being infected with HIV/AIDS means their whole life can be ruined. Raising awareness about the fact that it’s not just women, it’s also little girls, really elevates what genocide is. When you see children who are nine or ten, being gang-raped — it’s another level of violence, of evil that needs to be brought to light,” Murekatete said.

Murekatete spoke with the IPS following a UN panel on “Women and Genocide” last week. The panel specifically highlighted the issue of how women were impacted during the Holocaust — where between 1941 and 1945 Nazis systematically murdered over 6 million Jewish men, women and children — and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 — where in just 100 day over 800,000 people, ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were murdered. It has since been recognised by the UN as the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

 “Gender has been a part of Holocaust studies from the start,” she said. “Early explorations centred on the notions of a German crisis of masculinity – scholars saw this as a response to World War I.”

This supposed threat to their masculinity was “fertile soil for the emergence of a masculinist bellicose revival in the form of the Nazi party, and the person of Adolf Hitler,” she added.

“I don’t necessarily think they were trying to preserve ‘the gender hierarchy’ per se, but rather they sought to re-establish Germany as a masculine nation among other nations,” Cushman told IPS. “They viewed the ‘Jewish influence’ as creating a liberalistic, soft, effeminate and ineffective democracy. They aimed to put an end to that (among other things).”

According to Murekatete, I always highlight the importance of including people who are the actual survivors in conversations, for them to come and share their stories. I always say, we cannot be here debating about people’s lives who are not at the table, it’s just wrong. There is progress being made, but there’s still a long way to go in making sure that the voices that need to be at the table are actually at the table. (IPS)

Thoughts and views expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.

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