Peace Science Digest

Masculinities, Militarization, and Myth-Making in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Photo credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Duriesmith, D., & Holmes, G. (2019). The masculine logic of DDR and SSR in the Rwanda Defence Force. Security Dialogue, 50(4), 361-379.

Talking Points

In the context of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR) programs in post-genocide Rwanda,

  • Rwanda’s DDR and SSR programs promoted masculinities that reinforced an association between manhood and military strength, resulting in the re-emergence of traditional gender norms in a militarized, post-genocide Rwanda.
  • Certain gendered myths—like the “gentleman soldier” and “women as peacebuilders”—were used by the Rwandan Defense Forces to re-assert traditional gender roles.
  • While Rwanda’s DDR/SSR programs included a gender perspective, they employed a masculine logic that never challenged militarization, failing to dispel the association between manhood and military power.


Despite adopting a gender perspective in its disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) programs following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has emerged a deeply militarized and authoritarian state. When the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) engaged in the process of state-building and reconciliation, they relied on myths of a Rwandan “gentleman soldier” and of “women as peacebuilders” to repatriate former combatants. Though the RDF seemingly adopted a gender-inclusive approach, these myths reconstructed a traditional gender order that failed to challenge militarization. The authors explore this dynamic by asking, “how has the implementation of a gender-inclusive DDR/SSR program in Rwanda shaped militarized masculinity?”

Masculinities Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristics of men. The attribution of characteristics as male (as opposed to female) is socially constructed and informs the ways in which men are expected to behave in a specific cultural context. Masculinities are understood in relation to (and as opposed to-femininities) reinforcing a binary gender order where the former are often valued over the latter. 

The authors analyzed government policy documents, training materials from the Rwandan Ministry of Defense, and work from Rwandan historian Frank Rusagara to better understand how masculinity and gendered myths were appropriated by the RDF. In addition, they conducted 65 in-person interviews with male and female soldiers and government officials to examine how these gendered myths were used within the Rwandan security institution.

Rebuilding the Rwandan state after its civil war and genocide in 1994 was no small task. In the following decades, Rwanda built a security infrastructure to implement DDR/SSR programs to “demilitarize citizens and former combatants; to transform military culture to serve the civilian nation-state; and to provide the structural conditions for enduring peace.” For example, the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) was created to implement DDR processes. A gender perspective was incorporated in these DDR processes to accommodate women’s needs in demobilization centers, provide community counseling for women, and develop gender-awareness training for staff. By 2007, the RDF and UN Women (the United Nations gender and equity arm) established a Gender Desk to incorporate a gender perspective into ongoing SSR programs.

Yet, as the authors note, “when formal DDR/SSR programs fail to break the association between manhood and militarism, they are rightly criticized for failing to transform the conditions that led to violent conflict.” The RDF employed ancient myths, like “the process of Ku-aanda,” which saw pre-colonial Rwanda consolidated through military conquest, and the “militarized soldier-citizens at the center of developmental progress.” Ku-aanda ended during colonization but was reimagined in post-genocide Rwanda as a return to an older, non-European, militarized social order. This constituted a form of “masculinity nostalgia,” longing for a time of “patriarchal power, authority, and gender certainty”1 when peace was achieved. Soldiers during this time period were mythologized as civilized and governed by a moral code—as “gentleman soldiers”—in contrast to ruthless colonial powers or genocidal Hutu extremists.

While the idea of a “gentleman soldier” was developed to inform the behavior of men in post-genocide Rwanda, the idea of “women as peacebuilders” also took hold, drawing on pre-colonial myths and informing model behavior for women in the newly constructed militarized social order. This gender identity was carefully constructed to reject extreme misogyny and gender-based violence against women while simultaneously downplaying “women’s capacity to be assertive, violent,aggressive, defensive, or hyper-sexual.” Pre-colonial myths supported this effort in emphasizing women’s security. Blending more traditional peacebuilding activities with activities meant to support a militarized, masculine society, the “women as peacebuilders” identity prescribed roles in military support, logistics, medical care, and cultural rituals.

These gendered myths and roles were employed in three ways. First, in “purifying” all ex-combatants in re-education camps, which included courses on Rwandan history, politics, and society that reinforced the constructed gender norms of “gentleman soldiers” and “women as peacebuilders.” Second, in “purging” special needs groups from the RDF, like the 8,400 demobilized disabled servicemen who failed to live up to the myth of a strong, moral soldier-citizen. Third, in re-establishing the conjugal order that included a “prohibition of any form of sexual deviance,” including polygamy, intimate partner violence, or infidelity among RDF soldiers. This resulted in “policing” the personal lives of RDF soldiers, rejecting gender fluidity, and establishing the norm for heterosexual couples and monogamous families.

In conclusion, the authors find that while Rwanda’s DDR/SSR program included a gender perspective insofar as it took account of gendered security needs, the program nonetheless had a masculine logic that re-established a strict, militarized, and gendered social order.

Informing Practice

Incorporating a gender perspective into disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) programs is a key part of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. Yet, it is often assumed that the inclusion of a gender perspective will contribute to a more equitable distribution of power between men and women, reconstruct gender roles in post-conflict contexts, and create a less militarized society. As this article rightly points out, few research studies have examined DDR/SSR programs with a gender perspective, tending to focus only on those that exclude one. Even fewer have examined whether or not a formally developed gender perspective in DDR/SSR leads to these outcomes.

This article is directly relevant to policy-making and peacebuilding efforts in post-conflict countries, particularly those interested in advancing the WPS agenda. The experience in Rwanda helps to demonstrate how gender norms, particularly masculinities, need to be challenged as part of an overall gender perspective on peace and security in order for the goals of the WPS agenda to be fulfilled. Gender is never “just” about women in society and being responsive to their needs, as important as that is. It’s a lens for understanding how all people operate in a society, including men and other gender identities. At its best, a gender perspective should critically identify and examine the ways in which particular gender norms reinforce militarism and even legitimize and enable armed conflict. DDR and SSR programs should aim to strengthen gender norms that break the traditional association between masculinities and military strength.

Continued Reading

USIP. (N.d.). What is UNSCR 1325? An explanation of the landmark resolution on Women, Peace, and Security.  Retrieved September 2, 2019, from 

WILPF. (2012, November 19). Feminism and militarization: Implementing Women, Peace, and Security.  Retrieved September 2, 2019, from  

Sjoberg, L, & Gentry, C. E. (2007). Mothers, monsters, whores: Women’s violence in global politicsLondon: Zed Books.  

Gillard, Z. (2018, November 26). From pillars to progress in Women, Peace, and Security. Retrieved September 2, 2019, from 

Keywords: Rwanda, DDR, SSR, masculinities, militarization, gender 

The following analysis appears in Volume 4, Issue 4 of the Peace Science Digest. 

1. MacKenzie, M., & Foster, A. (2017). Masculinity nostalgia: How war and occupation inspire a yearning for gender order. Security dialogue, 48(3), 206-223