Rwanda genocide: The genocidal role of tens of thousands of women

Tens of thousands of women took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but their role is rarely spoken about, and reconciliation with their family is hard. Journalist Natalia Ojewska of BBC News has interviewed some female perpetrators in prison. Tens of thousands of women participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but their role is rarely spoken about, and reconciliation with their family is hard. Journalist Natalia Ojewska has been visiting female perpetrators in prison.

What started as a mundane trip to fetch water for breakfast ended with Fortunate Mukankuranga committing murder.

Dressed in an orange prison uniform and speaking in her dimmed, calm voice, she recalls the events of the morning of Sunday, 10 April 1994.

As she was on her way, she came across a group of attackers beating up two men in the middle of the street.

“When [the two] fell to the ground, I picked up a stick and said: ‘Tutsis must die!’. Then I hit one of them and then the other one… I was one of the killers,” the 70-year-old says.

Haunted by killings

These were two among 800,000 murders of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus that took place over 100 days.

After her involvement in the slaughter, Mukankuranga, an ethnic Hutu, returned home to her seven children feeling deeply ashamed. Flashbacks from the crime scene would not stop haunting her.

“I am a mother. I killed some children’s parents,” she says.

Just a few days later, two terrified Tutsi children, whose parents had just been butchered with machetes, knocked on her door asking for refuge.

‘Tide of guilt’

She did not hesitate and hid them in the attic, where they survived the massacres.

“Even though I have saved the children, I have failed these two men. This help will never turn the tide of guilt,” says Mukankuranga.

She is one of an estimated 96,000 women convicted for their involvement in the genocide – some killed adults, like Mukankuranga, some killed children, and others egged on men to commit rape and murder.

Between April and July 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed face-to-face in the space of 100 days

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