War, Women, and Power in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press)
In 1994, Rwanda experienced one of the most horrific periods of mass violence in history. Less than ten years later, Rwandans surprised people around the world by electing the world’s highest level of women to parliament. The ascent of women in Rwandan politics complicates the popular image of women as merely the victims and spoils of war. Perhaps even more surprising is that while Rwanda’s experience may be extreme, it is not an exception: war is correlated with increases in women’s political representation in dozens of other countries across the globe. In countries like Bosnia, women did not increase their formal political representation after war; however, they did launch thousands of community organizations that became spaces for informal political participation. This book offers the first in-depth attempt to explain the puzzling relationship between war and women’s political mobilization. Comparing the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia, it argues that war can serve as a period of rapid social change that reconfigures gendered power relations by precipitating interrelated demographic, economic, and cultural shifts. These shifts then culminate in women’s increased engagement in both formal and informal political capacities. The stories and experiences of more than 250 women animate the project, allowing the reader to see the multifaceted and varied ways that violence restructured women’s lives. As the concluding section shows, however, many of these gains were short lived, as the state, international actors, and revitalized patriarchal norms intervened to undermine and set back women’s progress.