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18 April 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin

The Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice IRSJ) has initiated a Social Justice Week at the University of the Free State (UFS), which started on Friday 12 April  until Wednesday 17 April 2019. 

Ten key events took place during the week. It ranged from dialogues, workshops, talk shows, debates, and interactive displays and events on issues of multilingualism and diversity, social innovation, engaged scholarship, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, gender sensitisation, sexual consent, sexual preparedness, universal access, disability, anti-discrimination, and security.

There was also a round-table discussion on 17 April 2019 with various UFS stakeholders on off-campus student security as well as an inter-institutional discussion on the same topic. The UFS Debating Society will take on the topic of the UFS Language Policy, while Olga Barends from the Free State Centre for Human Rights will host a dialogue on sexual consent.

The IRSJ has also designed and implemented SOJO-VATION: Social Innovation/ Social Change, which strives to create a foundational platform where ideas of social justice, innovation, and engaged scholarship at the UFS and in society can be hosted. SOJO-VATION partners with the Office for Student Leadership, Development, and Community Engagement.

The collaborating partners for the Social Justice Week includes various UFS stakeholders such as the Sasol library, the Gender and Sexual Equity Office, UFS Protection Services, the Free State Centre for Human Rights, the Student Representative Council (SRC), the Office for Student Leadership Development, Kovsie Innovation, GALA, the FFree State Centre for Human Rights, SRC Associations, the Office for Student Governance, Kovsie Innovate, Start-Up-Grind, EVC, EBL, Community Engagement, the Institutional Transformation Plan (ITP) Dialogues Office, Residence Dialogues, UFS Debating Society, Debate Afrika!, the Center for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS), and the Gateway Office. 

News Archive

#Women’sMonth: Who am I? Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors
2017-08-03

 Description: Michelle Nöthling, Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors Tags: Michelle Nöthling, Questions of identity among Rwandan rape survivors 

Michelle Nöthling, master’s degree student
in the Centre for Trauma, Forgiveness, and
Reconciliation Studies at the UFS.
Photo: Eugene Seegers

From 7 April to 15 July 1994, a mass genocide swept through Rwanda after years of Belgian colonial rule that divided the country along ethnic lines. Rape was also used as part of a political strategy to torture and humiliate mainly Tutsi women, and as a means of spreading HIV.

Individual focus
Why is it important to listen to what these rape survivors have to say? Michelle Nöthling, a master’s student in the UFS Centre for Trauma, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation Studies, responds, “We speak of groups – refugees, foreigners, and the like – yet we tend to forget the individuals and the lasting impact trauma has had on each person.”

Narrative exploration
Michelle maintains that we are the product of the narratives around us; things like – how to be a woman, how to dress, speak, or treat others. Her research delves into how these rape survivors see themselves, how they narrate their lives. She also investigates power relations based on gender; for example, how language can be used as a divisive tool.

Rwandan backdrop
In Rwanda, gender roles are deeply entrenched. Traditionally, a ‘girl’ remains such while she is a virgin. Her transition into womanhood is usually marked by marriage and followed by motherhood. But rape disrupts this structure, leading to an identity crisis as these girls are catapulted into motherhood with an unplanned child resulting from a traumatic event.

“We are the product of
the narratives around us.”

Reaching their mid-teens, the children, too, started asking questions about identity or paternity. For those mothers who were finally able to open up to their children, the experience has been mostly liberating – often leading to a closer relationship between parent and child. Michelle intends to interrogate how such significant moments shape the way these women perceive themselves. Research tends to portray these survivors solely as mothers of rape-born children. Michelle, however, seeks to examine their identities more deeply.

“These survivors still bear the heavy burden of being marginalised, stigmatised, and severely humiliated. Despite this, they have developed their own communities of belonging; people with whom they connect, to whom they relate, and to whom they are not ashamed to tell their experiences,” she said.

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