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Post-genocide Rwanda : Using football to reinvent women's lives

Copyrights: WomenWin

Post-genocide Rwanda : Using football to reinvent women's lives

A look at how after Rwanda's Genocide, football has helped reawaken women's desire to live.

In 1994, the world discovered the horror of the Rwandan genocide that led to the death of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, exterminated during the period April to July. The survivors of the genocide not only had to face the post-conflicts distress but also an alarming economic situation.

The genocide survivors were mainly women and now represent approximately 70% of the population after the conflict. In a country where 60% of the population live on less than one dollar per day, women are particularly exposed to poverty.

A witness of the Rwandan women’s distress, Felicite Rwemarika, wanted to give them the possibility to rebuild themselves and therefore in 1997 created the AKWOS association (Association of Kigali Women in Sports). Felicite wanted to reawaken their desire to live and to reinvent their lives through sport. To achieve this goal, she decided to use football, a male-dominated sport that girls were traditionally prohibited to play. A risky but calculated move because the reluctance was so significant that if the objective was fulfilled, football would be the more suitable sport to change things, to challenge the status quo and to change the social structure of Rwandan society.

"Genocide left women survivors traumatised and with no more value for life.” said Felicite Rwemarika. In the short and long term and on many other levels, football has allowed women to start a new life. Firstly, it helped them to regain self-confidence and relearn how to socialise, and secondly sport helped to set aside ethnic animosities in order to create good conditions for reconciliation and unity.

The other critical objective of the association is women’s empowerment and to help them to be recognised as real economic actors. Today, more than 300 women work as team administrators and football tournament organisers. Felicite also encourages them to engage in agri-business and farming cooperatives. Therefore, football has become a way to get out of poverty.

The association also aims at conveying important messages, such as health awareness particularly regarding to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Significant progress on gender equality, either individual or societal, has also been made thanks to Felicite. For instance, she had influenced many governmental measures to create access to sport for girls and women.

Even though the journey towards the establishment of female football has been tough and lengthy – ten years were needed to integrate the Rwandese Football Federation – now women’s football has found a foothold. More than 100 teams are present all over the country and football is taught in schools. Rwanda now holds the African record for the number of female football players certified by the FIFA foundation, which certainly is a motivation for young Rwandan girls.


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Charlotte Grégoire


Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 23:00