XI. WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND THE ELDERLY
A substantial number of heads of household in imidugudu are drawn from the most vulnerable sectors of society. According to one survey, 59 percent were women, 5 percent were under the age of twenty, and 7 percent were over the age of 60.223 Given their relative weakness, many had in fact been homeless and unable to obtain property as more powerful people had done. They moved willingly to the new settlements in hopes of having a home. Among them were widows who feared for their security and welcomed the chance to live in a group.224
Other women, children, and elderly did have homes and would have preferred to stay in them, but many of them lacked the political or economic power to withstand pressure from authorities and so they too moved quickly to imidugudu.
The order to move has caused many problems for the vulnerable who lack the strength or resources to build new houses. In many imidugudu families headed by women or children occupy the worst structures. One family of five, headed by a woman, live crammed together in a blindé that is some twelve feet long and four feet wide. The oldest daughter in the family is pregnant and expects to raise her child in the same living space. The hangar-like structure is loosely covered with banana leaves that are lifted by passing gusts of wind and that let in the rain in heavy storms. The head of the family explained that when she and others moved to the site, residents able to raise the walls of their houses were given roofing materials to finish the job. But those like herself who lacked the means to build even a simple wood and mud daub house have stayed in blindés.225
One widow with three young children from Kinigi commune destroyed her old house and moved to the umudugudu. She had dismantled the roof and brought it along, but it was too old and damaged to keep the rain out, so she used it for makeshift walls and put a piece of plastic sheeting up for a roof. She must travel nearly two miles to fetch water for her family. She would have preferred to stay at home near her field, she said, but she had no choice because the government told her to move to the new settlement. She says she will simply continue surviving this way because she has no power to change the situation. She does not expect to ever have the means to build a solid house again and has, she says, accepted the fact that she will live the rest of her life under plastic sheeting.226
In Rutonde commune, Kibungo, a single woman head of household organized other family members to pool their meager resources to build a house for their widowed mother, an elderly genocide survivor. Shortly after they finished the work, the widow was ordered to move to an umudugudu. The daughter said:
This imidugudu policy has caused so many problems for my family-it makes me
so angry. . . . Our house was completely destroyed during the genocide. After that,
we worked so hard to rebuild it. We really tightened our belts. . . . And then we had
to destroy it. I don't even have a house for myself and my child. And I will have to
use all my resources to build another house for my elderly mother in the umudugudu.227
In Ruhengeri a local organization had just finished building houses for widows in the commune of Cyeru when the women were ordered to destroy them and move to imidugudu, where they live in blindés covered with banana leaves.228
Women heads of household make easy targets for local officials seeking to appropriate land for others. One elderly widow, who cares for six children, was ordered to give all her land to returnees who claimed to be the previous owners. Describing her present situation, she said:
I work for others to get something to eat. Anyone who has work, I do it. Imagine
a woman with six children to feed who has no field and needs to beg for work-
even though she once had a field. . . . I get no assistance. We didn't get any
material for a roof. The house is not well built and the rain falls on us.
She continued, "A woman cannot get justice in conflicts with a man. We had to accept. . .. Most of us who had to give fields back [to the returnees] are widows. I know my four neighbors [who gave up land] are widows."229
When authorities in Muhazi commune, Kibungo, were appropriating land to give to the landless, they took away virtually all the land of one widow who had complained often and to no avail about being sexually harassed by a brother of a local official. When she saw that the local authorities had put stakes all around her house, leaving her nothing to farm, she again complained but they refused to listen. "Unless you have money for bribes," she said, "you will get nothing."230
In Musasa commune, authorities took most of the land of one elderly woman and divided it up for plots for an umudugudu. Plans for construction were then suspended and she was allowed to resume cultivating some of the land. A local official took the rest for his own use and she has not been able to get any help from communal officials in getting it back.231
A woman setting up a new household often needed help, a need that left her open to exploitation by local men. "For example," said one women's rights activist, "she needs helptransporting wood for construction. He does it, then comes back at night asking for `compensation.'"232
Local authorities, who ordinarily controlled the distribution of aid, sometimes insisted that women give favors in return for supplies that had been designated for them.233 One widow in Rutonde commune whose husband was killed during the genocide rebuffed the sexual advances of a local official who then refused to give her the roofing material that was meant for widows like her. She recounted:
My house was destroyed during the war, but I came back and tried to repair it.
A while later they said I had to move to the umudugudu and I did. They were
supposed to give me a piece of tin roofing, but I never got any. . . . When you
have one problem, other problems follow. You see how sick my children are.
They have sores on their heads. I don't know if it's from malnutrition. I don't
even have money for soap. . . We have a proverb in Kinyarwanda which says,
"Rain falls on everyone, but one person gets more wet." They helped everyone
and I am part of the community, but they left me out.234
One women's rights activist was outraged when she found local authorities demanding sexual services from women in exchange for roofing materials that had been donated for widows in the Kibungo commune where her family lived. She said: "When they distributed roofing, the authorities gave it to their friends and not to the vulnerable people. If a widow wanted some, the councilor came at night to "photograph" her-that's what they call it, "photograph"-you know, take her image."235 One genocide survivor, a widow in Kibungo, exclaimed on the vulnerability of women: "We are widows, everywhere! The authorities are men."236
223 ADL, Etude, p.28.
224 Human Rights Watch interview, Gisumu, Cyangugu, May 16, 2000.
225 Human Rights Watch interview, Nyarubuye, Kibungo, October 30, 2000.
226 Human Rights Watch interview, Kinigi, Ruhengeri, November 19, 1999.
227 Human Rights Watch interview, Rutonde, Kibungo, March 14, 2000.
228 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, December 7, 1999.
229 Human Rights Watch interview, Cyimbogo, Cyangugu, May 16, 1999.
230 Human Rights Watch interview, Muhazi, Kibungo, November 30, 1999.
231 Human Rights Watch interview, Musasa, Kigali-rural, November 7, 2000.
232 Human Rights Watch interview, Rwamagana, Kibungo, November 24, 1999.
233 "Nothing will be white as snow," Imvaho Nshya, no. 129, July 26-August 1, 1999.
234 Human Rights Watch interview, Rutonde, Kibungo, March 14, 2000.
235 Human Rights Watch interview, Rwamagana, Kibungo, March 14, 1999.
236 Human Rights Watch interview, Muhazi, Kibungo, November 25, 1999.
237 Human Rights Watch interviews and observations, Cyimbogo, Cyamgugu, May 16, 2000.
238 Human Rights Watch interview, Rusumo, Kibungo, October 29, 2000.
239 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, May, 2000.
240 Human Rights Watch interviews, Rutonde and Muhazi, Kibungo, April 15, 1999; Cyimbogo, Cyangugu, May 16, 2000.
Once installed in the settlement, single women caring for young children find the need to travel added distances to get to their fields or to get water or wood especially burdensome. They struggle every day with the problems of taking the children with them to work the fields or of finding some way to leave them safely at home.237
Children who head households also suffer hardship because authorities find it easy to take property away from them. One slight thirteen-year-old in Rusumo commune, Kibungo, struggles to feed his siblings, aged twelve and eight, and his elderly grandmother. There isno money to pay school fees, so none of the children attends school. Their parents were killed in the war and their land was later taken to serve as the site for the umudugudu. In exchange, they were allocated a field that is some seven miles distant. Each day in the growing season, the thirteen-year-old makes the fourteen mile round trip on foot, using what is left of his time and energy to cultivate the field. Inside the small blindé that serves as their home, there is no furniture and only a few grass mats to serve as bed and covers.238
The elderly also often suffer greatly from having to move to imidugudu. Seven of twelve persons who had to destroy their homes in one cell of a Ruhengeri commune were over the age of sixty and one was an eighty-year-old woman. Half of the cultivators who had their crops destroyed when land was cleared for a building site in another cell of the same commune were over the age of sixty.239
In some cases local officials organized other residents to help the weak and elderly. In others religious or humanitarian organizations mustered workers to help build houses. But given the scarcity of resources for most in the imidugudu, the neediest could not rely on help being either abundant or long-term.240