Posttraumatic identities: developing a culturally-informed understanding of posttraumatic growth in Rwandan women genocide survivors

Williamson, Caroline (2014) Posttraumatic identities: developing a culturally-informed understanding of posttraumatic growth in Rwandan women genocide survivors. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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In the 1994 Rwanda genocide, an estimated 800,000 people were brutally murdered in just thirteen weeks. This violence affected all Rwandans, but women experienced the genocide in very specific ways. They were frequently raped, tortured and physically mutilated. Yet, because of their sexual value, the number of women who survived the genocide far outweighed the number of men, leaving them largely responsible for rebuilding Rwandan society. While it may seem abhorrent to suggest that anything good could result from such tragedy, evidence from the women’s testimonies analysed for this research project suggests that this is a reality.

Traditionally, the study of psychological trauma has been pervaded by an illness ideology with an emphasis on its pathological consequences. Throughout history and across cultures, however, the notion of positive changes resulting from human suffering has been recognised in literature and philosophy. Positive change following trauma, or posttraumatic growth, refers to the tendency of some individuals to establish new psychological constructs and build a new way of life that is experienced as superior to their previous one in important ways. Little research has been carried out on the concept of posttraumatic growth in other cultures and, to date, no research into posttraumatic growth has been carried out in Rwanda. However, empirical research in other contexts suggests that efforts to harness and promote posttraumatic growth may not only enhance health and well-being but also reduce future need for formal mental health services.

Through a discursive analysis of Rwandan women survivors’ testimonies, this thesis reveals that, although there are countless tales of horror, pain and loss, there are also many stories about strength, recovery and growth. The thesis examines the impact of external factors, such as victimisation, stigmatisation and gender, which appear to encourage personal strength among these women, but have also gravely damaged their interpersonal relationships. It also examines the impact of the genocide on religious beliefs and demonstrates that individual interpretations of trauma within a religious framework can provide existential reassurance. However, because of Rwanda’s history of theocratic leadership, religious interpretations can also give spiritual credibility to ideologies which have a negative impact on group identity. The final part of the thesis examines processes of growth at the collective level, exploring the impact of the genocide on these women’s group identities both as survivors in Rwandan society and as Rwandans in an international society. It suggests that for growth to take place at the collective level, survivors require access to a platform from which they can develop counter ideologies and pursue their collective needs for agency on the one hand, and communion on the other. Drawing on the findings of this research, the concluding chapter offers culturally-informed advice to trauma practitioners, policy makers and non-governmental organisations as to how posttraumatic growth might be facilitated in the socio-political climate of Rwanda.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Hitchcott, N.
Batchelor, K.
Keywords: Traumatic shock, genocide survivors, genocide, psychological aspects, Rwanda, women, attitudes
Subjects: D History - General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Item ID: 27821
Depositing User: Williamson, Caroline
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2014 15:24
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 20:36

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