A qualitative exploration of identity among mothers of rape-born children conceived during the 1994 Rwandan genocide: a secondary data analysis
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Although war rape has proven to be a ubiquitous phenomenon proliferating across the globe, research has paid little attention to women who became pregnant as a result of war rape. The available literature pertaining to this vulnerable group tends to represent mothers of rape-born children in static and monolithic ways, often focusing on mothers’ victimhood while neglecting sites of agency. Most of the studies that do consider mothers of rape-born children in the context of war, frame the research within Western paradigms which leads to misrepresentation and inappropriate conceptualisations of victims within non-Western settings. This study addresses these issues through exploring how Rwandan women who became pregnant as a result of rape during the 1994 genocide, narrate their identities and their relationships with their social world. The study employs a feminist poststructuralist theoretical framework that supports contextualised and nuanced understandings of subjectivity. This approach allows for African conceptualisations of an interdependent self, highlighting the constitutive power of dominant discourses in the lived reality of Rwandan mothers of rape-born children. Through employing a feminist poststructuralist approach, this study was able to conduct a rich and nuanced secondary analysis of qualitative data into ways Rwandan mothers of rape-born children construct and negotiate their subjectivity amidst dominant—and often contradictory—discourses. Through a thematic narrative analysis, the study reveals two areas that have received little to no scholarly attention. The first area centres on the practice of male militia members to claim Tutsi women as their ‘wives’ after having raped them. Although various studies have referred to this practice as ‘taking sex slaves’, no attempt has been made to interrogate the master narratives that govern and sanction this practice, or how women narrate their experiences and sense of self when taken as a ‘wife’. The second under-researched area identified by this study pertains to the way social, cultural, and religious discourses construct motherhood in contradictory ways—limiting mothers’ access to attaining the identity of ‘good’ mother. On the one hand, dominant discourses construct an ideal image of motherhood, venerating women for their role as bearers of life. These discourses have constructed maternal love as natural and unconditional, and view any different experience as an anomaly. Patriarchal discourses on the other hand, shame and marginalise mothers of illegitimate children, constructing these women as sexually deviant and dangerous. The study looks at how these contradicting discourses shape participants’ sense of self when they are either forced to choose between their family and their child, or when these mothers are denied the option of abortion but are expected to love their child—culturally considered as belonging to the enemy—unconditionally and unreservedly.