Judith Herrmann, Director of the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution program, presented her PhD research at the Soroptimist International NQ “Empowering Women Conference”. Judith’s research focuses on the analysis of the needs and experiences of Rwandan women who survived sexual violence during the genocide against the Tutsi and who raised their case at a local community court. As part of her research, Judith conducted interviews with over 20 Rwandan women. In line with the theme of the Soroptimist conference, Judith focused moments of empowerment of the women who she interviewed.
In her speech, Judith reported that the women were empowered in at least four different ways. Firstly, the women were empowered through justice. The majority of interview participants saw their perpetrators punished by the jury of their community court, which seemed to some validation of the harm experienced. Secondly, the women were empowered through forgiveness, as some of them decided to forgive, despite never having received an apology from their perpetrators. Judith made reference to a TEDx talk that she gave in September 2016 at JCU TEDx on the power of forgiveness when feeling wronged by someone who seems unwilling to apologise. Thirdly, the women were empowered by being a member of a support group, which gave the women a safe place to share their stories and feel that they were not alone. Finally, participating in research provided another opportunity for empowerment. By participating in Judith’s interviews, the women could actively contribute to education about what had happened in Rwanda and what they experienced during the justice process following the genocide. Furthermore, women were empowered in the interviews because they experienced the feeling that their individual story mattered.
Judith’s speech at the conference was received with great interest by the audience, and was followed by half an hour of discussion. After the conference, Judith was invited to speak at various future events organised by Soroptimist International.