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Situating Sexual Violence in Rwanda (1990–2001): Sexual Agency, Sexual Consent, and the Political Economy of War


This article situates the sexual violence associated with the Rwandan civil war and 1994 genocide within a local cultural history and political economy in which institutionalized gender violence shaped the choices of Rwandan women and girls. Based on ethnographic research, it argues that Western notions of sexual consent are not applicable to a culture in which colonialism, government policy, war, and scarcity of resources have limited women's access to land ownership, economic security, and other means of survival. It examines emic cultural models of sexual consent and female sexual agency and proposes that sexual slavery, forced marriage, prostitution, transactional sex, nonmarital sex, informal marriage or cohabitation, and customary (bridewealth) marriages exist on a continuum on which female sexual agency becomes more and more constrained by material circumstance. Even when women's choices are limited, women still exercise their agency to survive. Conflating all forms of sex in conflict zones under the rubric of harm undermines women's and children's rights because it reinforces gendered hierarchies and diverts attention from the structural conditions of poverty in postconflict societies.


Cet article situe les problèmes de violence sexuelle associés avec la guerre civile au Ruanda et le génocide de 1994 dans le contexte d'une économie et d'une histoire culturelle locale qui contient une violence institutionnalisée contre les femmes et les jeunes filles ruandaises. En nous appuyant sur une recherche ethnographique, nous soutenons que les notions occidentales de consentement sexuel ne s'appliquent pas à une culture dans laquelle le colonialisme, la politique du gouvernement, et la pénurie de ressources ont limité l'accès pour les femmes à la propriété de terres, à la sécurité économique, et à d'autres moyens de subsistence. Nous examinons les modèles culturels émiques de consentement sexuel et du droit sexuel féminin, et offre la perspective que l'esclavage sexuel, le manage forcé, la prostitution, le sexe de transaction, le sexe extra marital, le mariage ou la cohabitation informelle, et les manages coutumiers coexistent sur un continuum de plus en plus lié à des contraintes matérielles. Même lorsque les choix des femmes sont limités, elles exercent toujours leur pouvoir de survie. Le fait de présenter toutes les formes de transactions sexuelles dans les zones de conflit comme des transactions de violence met en danger les droits des femmes et des enfants car cela renforce les hiérarchies entre les sexes, et détourne l'attention des vraies questions structurelles de pauvreté dans les sociétés post-conflit.

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African Studies Review
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