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Surviving genocide and defending women’s rights

26 July 2018

Ancilla lost her husband in the Rwandan genocide and then withdrew from the world. Yet she has turned her life around to become an inspiring activist for women’s rights in her community.

Ancilla speaks out about gender based violence

Ancilla has become an activist for women's rights in her community in Rwanda. Photo : Andrea Sciorato

Fleeing a genocide

Ancilla Uzamukunda, is 51 years old from Nyamagabe District, in southern Rwanda. She had her life dramatically changed 24 years ago. In the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, she fled the country but lost contact with her husband. Tragically, this was just after giving birth to her only child.

Following those tragic events, Ancilla’s main problem has been isolation. Living alone in her house without a secure means to provide for her daughter, she couldn’t think about anything other than death. Her fear and uncertainty of the future were unbearable.

She was also feeling that she didn’t have anything to offer to other people. With this sense of uselessness hanging over her, she barely left the house.

Starting life again

“My life started again when I found something which motivated me to get out of my house”, Ancilla says. She engaged in the Women's Empowerment Programme run by Trócaire in partnership with local organisation CDJP Gikongoro (the Gikongoro Diocese Justice & Peace Commission).

Thanks to this programme, Ancilla started to be among people again and to tear down the wall of isolation she had built for herself.

“I progressively got interested in different topics, such as property and decision making rights for women, and gender-based violence. I started to ask myself: if I am part of something, if I know my rights, why not become a decision maker in my community?”

The final push was when the community needed representatives to join a group that would report cases of gender-based violence to the authorities. They were looking for an active community member and an upright individual. These were qualities that many people thought that Ancilla embodied. Thanks to her newly gained self-confidence, she accepted to become a candidate and eventually she got elected.

“I am now extremely motivated by the fact that members of my community trust me and see me as a guide when it comes to women related issues” Ancilla proudly declares.

Ancilla has become an activist for women's rights in her community in Rwanda. Photo : Andrea Sciorato

Ancilla has rebuilt her confidence and is now a respected community leader on women's rights. Photo : Andrea Sciorato

Challenging cases of Gender-based violence

Ancilla has already handled several sensitive cases: a young girl made pregnant from an unknown man, and another woman who had been rejected by the father of her son. Ancilla’s commitment and skills were crucial to link these vulnerable people with the relevant authorities and support services within the community. She has also provided effective peer support.

“These successes have made me even more committed. Now I lead what we call accountability meetings, which are really helpful when we are facing problems we don’t have the capacity to directly address”.

Advice for women across the world

When asked about any advice she could give to women in the same situation across the world, Ancilla has no doubt that everything is about empowerment. She says that “everyone has both rights and capacity, and if you decide to do, you will do”. She says that no one should lose hope, “because opportunities are out there, and if you go out, meet people, and engage in something meaningful, you will regain your life”.

Being engaged in this programme has been truly life-changing for Ancilla. She says that “thanks to this project I am no longer depressed. My life has a new meaning now, through my service to the community”.

Andrea Sciorato is an EU Aid volunteer working with Trócaire as part of the REACH initiative, co-funded by the European Union. 

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