Swanee Hunt's Rwandan women rising is a unique and very important work. It gives readers access to exceptionally broad and deep testimonies from Rwandan women who have contributed to the construction of post-genocide Rwandan society, government and culture. The book is beautifully presented, poignant and personal—providing a window on Rwanda that has not been available until now. It is also meticulously and sensitively crafted and a work that I would highly recommend to scholars and students of social sciences. For students in particular, this book will individualize and humanize a range of theories and concepts related to international studies, women's studies, gender studies and human rights, liberating these topics from distance and abstraction and thereby rendering them palpable. The book is clearly a labour of love, dedication, empathy and sincere engagement—a reflection of Hunt's personal commitment to Rwandan women over many years. The author's self-awareness and capacity for self-criticism, as well as her willingness to ask difficult questions of herself and others, to embrace complexity and present nuanced and diverse perspectives, make her work stand out in terms of quality and significance. Photos of the individuals interviewed and of community development projects that women have led and benefitted from also enrich the book. They anchor the testimonies of female Rwandan leaders advancing the rights and welfare of women, and improving human rights for Rwandans as a whole. Though the book is primarily a compilation of ethnographic accounts, students of history will benefit greatly from the individual perspectives of female Rwandan leaders which shed light on broader historical, social and political issues. Rwandan women rising is critical in some areas and Hunt is careful to note negative and minority opinions on a range of issues, such as the Rwandan government's policies, ethics and efficacy. However, in other areas, it is unfortunately silent. It never examines, for example, why survivors of the genocide—including women—are currently severely marginalized politically, economically and socially. Hunt discusses the extraordinary work of women survivors' organizations, including the Association of the Widows of Genocide (AVEGA). However, the Rwandan government's side-lining of AVEGA and other survivor organizations seeking to secure reparative justice for genocide survivors—as well as their neglect by the development and humanitarian aid sectors and prominent donor countries contributing to Rwanda's post-genocide development—is ignored. This is a significant gap and incorporating the voices of women who do not share the conviction that their rights and welfare are being effectively secured and respected would have contributed substantially to the book. Moreover, Hunt's approach to the subject of reconciliation is based on Christological ideology, which is endorsed by Jimmy Carter in his foreword and is embraced by most of the women profiled in the book—and which reflects Rwandan government policy. There is little acknowledgement of the fact that this ideology has been described by many genocide survivors—women and men—as traumatizing and as enabling continued abuses of power by genocide perpetrators. It is also challenged for being an affront to the desire for justice of genocide survivors and to their right to it under international human rights law. The book is sometimes coy around its use of terms like Hutu and Tutsi, which the author acknowledges. This is perhaps in deference to the Rwandan government's policy to minimize the use of these social categories, in favour of a unifying emphasis on shared Rwandan identity. While clearly well intentioned and understandable—and in many cases commendable—for some readers the elision may be confusing as it leaves too much implied about contexts of discrimination, persecution and genocide. Thus it is not always straightforward who was perpetrator or victim, nor does the book clearly show the social and political realities which fuelled persecution and genocide. 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. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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