During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, almost a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed, and millions of people fled. Sociologist Dr. Marian Koster has concluded that the government and development organizations wrongly persist in seeing widows as the most vulnerable group.
Divorced women did seem vulnerable, however. They receive no aid, have little access to land and often cannot pay school fees. Yet they are overlooked by government and aid organizations. Their fellow villagers think they are supported by their ex-partners, but that is seldom the case.
Koster does not argue for withdrawing support from widows, many of whom still need it. But she does think that the government and development organizations should pay more attention to other vulnerable groups in the society, including divorced women, older single men and migrants. They are easily overlooked if it is assumed that female-headed households are poorer and more vulnerable than the rest.
The government’s agricultural policy needs changing too, says Koster. The current policy focuses on upscaling, and farmers are stimulated, sometimes under pressure, to stop growing lots of different crops on several small plots of land. This policy disadvantages small farmers, who cannot afford the risks involved in larger scale agriculture, and depend for their food security on precisely this cultivation of multiple crops on several plots. But Koster does think the Rwandan government is doing some good things too. After the genocide, the government realized that in a country where in some regions women made up 80% of the population, women were crucial to the reconstruction effort. Since then, new rules and regulations have improved their position by making it easier for women to obtain credit, education and land. / Joris Tielens
Marian Koster obtained her PhD on 22 October. Her supervisor was Anke Niehof, Professor of the Sociology of consumers and households.