Rwandan Women Rising

Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 116 color illustrations Published: May 2017

Author: Swanee Hunt

Contributor: Carter, Jimmy

African Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Politics > Political Science

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. 
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 postconflict 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.


"This is an important book on a gripping topic...." — Jane Haile, New York Journal of Books

"There’s no doubt that the stories in Rwandan Women Rising carry lessons about the importance of fostering and maintaining women’s leadership to achieve “enduring stability and meaningful reunification” in conflict-ridden societies across the globe." — Kathleen B. Jones, Los Angeles Review of Books

"This book gives unwavering evidence of the necessity of women in peace building efforts, not to fill seats at the table, but as leaders of lasting change." — WATER

"This book is a testimony to and a work of honesty and hope, and reflects horror, heartache and healing. Its contribution to literature on Rwanda, women’s rights and welfare, development, social change and transitional justice is substantial. It is humane, searing and invaluable and should be read widely and carefully. Its lessons and wisdom, which are characterized by humility and careful self-reflection on the part of author and interviewees alike, make it an exceptional work of enduring consequence with a potential for positive, transformative impact." — Noam Schimmel, International Affairs

"In Rwandan Women Rising, Swanee Hunt traces this history through interviews with over 80 of the Rwandan activists whose work made this possible, addressing such issues as sexual violence, equality in marriage and girls' education. Accompanied by fullcolour photographs, Hunt's interlocutors make a strong case: A woman's place is in the peace process." — Jade Colbert, Globe and Mail

"Through well narrated local voices situated in Rwanda, this book is able to provide readers with detailed and fresh insights into how Rwandan women participate in politics and influence policies aimed at peace promotion and nation reconstruction, in turn encouraging us to advance further women’s leadership for the sake of global security." — Xianan Jin, Feminist Review

"Inspirational." — Foreign Service Journal

“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

“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, Harvard professor, former U.S. Under Secretary of State

"In these pages we hear the heartbeat of [Rwandan] society. We listen to the mothers. We hear from politicians and businesswomen. We watch those running the local reconciliation courts that were at the grassroots of society. We follow their halting advances at the helm in hamlets and in the capital. We explore how Rwanda has become the standard-bearer in female political representation . . . Since I came to know Swanee Hunt in the early 90s, we’ve crossed paths on different continents and across decades as we’ve worked together on free elections, against corruption, toward independent media, and for decent health conditions. . . . Over the years, I have taken pride in watching Swanee fight for recognition of the fact that true security must be inclusive." — President Jimmy Carter, from the Foreword

“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.” — Princeton Lyman, Senior Advisor to the President of the US Institute of Peace

"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 show 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 personality


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Swanee Hunt chairs the Washington-based Institute for Inclusive Security. During her tenure as U.S. ambassador to Austria (1993–97), she hosted negotiations and symposia focused on securing peace in the neighboring Balkan states. She is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, CEO of Hunt Alternatives, and a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR and written for Foreign AffairsForeign Policy, the International Herald Tribune, Chicago TribuneLos Angeles Times, and Boston Globe, among other publications. She is the author of Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for Global SecurityHalf-Life of a Zealot, and This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace, all also published by Duke University Press.
Jimmy Carter was the thirty-ninth president of the United States. A Nobel Prize laureate and author of numerous books, President Carter is the founder of The Carter Center, which has worked for decades to resolve conflict, promote democracy, protect human rights, and prevent disease around the globe.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Timeline xi
Key Terms xvii
Biographies of Speakers xix
Foreword / Jimmy Carter xxix
Preface xxxiii
With Thanks xxxix
Introduction 1
Part I. Starting Places 19
1. Foremothers 24
2. The Pressure Builds 33
3. Stateless 44
4. To Arms 52
5. Genocide 58
6. Immediate Aftermath 70
Part II. The Path to Public Leadership 77
7. Community Training Ground 84
8. A Pull from the Top 93
9. Emboldened Ministry of Gender 107
10. Countrywide Women's Councils 114
11. Caucus Crucible 122
12. Fanning Out 129
13. A New Constitution 135
14. The Quota 140
15. Pioneering in Parliament 146
16. Spurring Local Leadership151
Part III. Bending toward Reconciliation 161
17. Bringing Them Together 165
18. Bringing Them Home 171
19. Rethinking Rape 182
20. To Testify 191
21. Off the Sidelines 199
22. Far beyond the Stats 206
23. Risk and Resignation 211
Part IV. Signposts 219
24. The Meaning of Marriage 223
25. Safety: A New Language 229
26. Challenging Changes 235
27. Unmasking Ambition 242
28. Health Means Whole 251
29. Every Body Matters 257
30. Thriving Progress 265
31. Little Ones 272
32. Reading Rights 278
Part V. Building the Road They're Walking 289
33. Solidarity and Sisterhood 293
34. Manning the Movement 299
35. Sowing Confidence 305
36. Flying High 314
37. Planting Deep 322
38. Charting New Pathways 331
39. Complements and Compliments 336
40. Coming Up 345
Epilogue 357
Notes 377
Index 385
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