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Soc Sci Med. 2010 May;70(10):1656-64. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.017. Epub 2010 Feb 12.

Don't let the suffering make you fade away: an ethnographic study of resilience among survivors of genocide-rape in southern Rwanda.

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School of Public Health, National University of Rwanda, Kigali, Rwanda.


Rape has been used in contemporary armed conflicts to inflict physical, psychological, cultural and social damage. In endeavoring to address the psychological damage of collective violence, some researchers and global health practitioners are turning toward post-conflict mental health promotion approaches that centrally feature resilience. Though previous findings from resilience and coping research are robust, few studies have actually investigated resilience among genocide-rape survivors in cultural context in non-Western settings. This paper presents ethnographic data gathered over 14 months (September 2005 to November 2006) in southern Rwanda on resilience among genocide-rape survivors who were members of two women's genocide survivor associations. Study methods included a content analysis of a stratified purposive sample of 44 semi-structured interviews, as well as participant-, and non-participant-observation. Resilience among genocide-rape survivors in this context was found to be shaped by the cultural-linguistic specific concepts of kwihangana (withstanding), kwongera kubaho (living again), and gukomeza ubuzima (continuing life/health), and comprised of multiple sociocultural processes that enabled ongoing social connection with like others in order to make meaning, establish normalcy, and endure suffering in daily life. The results of this research show that the process of resilience among genocide-rape survivors was the same regardless of whether genocide survivor association membership was organized around the identity of genocide-rape survivorship or the identity of widowhood. However, the genocide-rape survivors' association members were more involved with directing resilience specifically toward addressing problems associated with genocide-rape compared to the members of the genocide widows' association. The findings from this research suggest that ethnographic methods can be employed to support resilience-based post-conflict mental health promotion efforts through facilitating collective sexual violence survivors to safely socially connect around their shared experiences of rape, neutralizing social threats of stigma and marginalization.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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