Issues of Power and Empowerment in Refugee Studies: Rwandan Women's Adaptive Behaviour at Benaco Refugee Camp

Judy A. Benjamin


This paper addresses human rights violations
in the context of gender power
relationships and calls attention to the
need to examine the standards for human
rights assessments in the context of refugee
situations. This research is based on
fieldwork carried out with Rwandan
Hutu refugees during an 18-month assignment
as Project Director for CARE
International in Ngara, Tanzania. Participant
observations, interviews, surveys,
and focus group discussions
yielded a wealth of data concerning the
coping strategies of men and women.
Women's coping strategies made them
vulnerable: women without partners were
the least protected and took the greatest
risks in their efforts to survive and feed
their children. Their adaptive behaviour
increased their risks of rape, sexual abuse,
and exposure to HIV and other sexually
transmitted diseases. These serious problems
were overshadowed by the chaotic
business of running a refugee camp. In
the rush to accommodate the influx of
hundreds of thousands of refugees, the
non-governmental organizations and
UN agencies established a relief infrastructure
that -- perversely -- gave the
perpetrators of crimes, positions of power
within the camp, which enabled the gender
violations to persist.

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