Wallenberg fellow to explore the realities of exploited women and girls in Rwanda
Written by Fernanda Pires
When University of Michigan senior Chloe Hale read in the Amnesty International Report about the association between COVID-19 and the rise of gender-based and domestic violence in Rwanda, she knew she had to take action.
At the time, Hale, from Marquette, was a research intern for the nonprofit Torture Abolition Survivors Support Coalition International and studied the history, impact and current situation under the Museveni Regime in Uganda.
“I learned that the sexual exploitation in Rwanda was potentially happening because of the restrictions on freedom of movement and obstacles to protect and support these women,” Hale said. “This increase in teenage pregnancies may be associated with the closure of schools and young girls facing sexual exploitation or assault during times of crisis, but there’s not a lot of research proving this connection.”
The quest to understand and collect data on the impact of the global pandemic on Rwandan women inspired Hale to apply for the Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship Award, given each spring to a graduating senior with exceptional promise and accomplishment to service and the public good.
Double majoring in political science and social theory in practice, Hale won the $25,000 award for 2022 and will start her journey in August. She will spend one year in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and largest city, to explore the theory that health crises pull girls out of school and boost rates of sexual exploitation.
“I will rely primarily on qualitative research methods to investigate the relationship between school closures, teenage pregnancies and young women’s rights during crises,” Hale said. “My target population will be girls who have attended at least one year of high school and their teachers who witnessed how the pandemic impacted pregnancy and access to education.”
For Henry Dyson, director of the U-M Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, who advised her during the application process, Hale’s previous research experiences made her the “perfect fit to tackle the important and sensitive issues” she will explore as a Wallenberg fellow.
“The experience of living and working alongside people in a host community differentiates the Wallenberg Fellowship from other research-oriented grant programs,” Dyson said.
“Her work with TASSC and as a peer adviser for the Honors Program also gave us confidence that she will successfully form deep relationships with these women, understanding their lives in a wider context than as research subjects. We believe that she has the resilience to adapt and stay engaged at a high level as changes inevitably can occur in the project she has proposed.”
Together with a local scholar from the University of Rwanda, Hale will work directly with community members, local teachers and young women who have experienced pregnancy as an adolescent. The goal is that their research results may be helpful to determine appropriate responses to humanitarian and climate crises threats to the rights of marginalized populations.
“My conversations with the communities will broaden my humane understanding of the world and the lives of the women who live in it,” Hale said. “This experience will contribute to my future career path and lifelong plans to pursue academia as an innovative and passionate individual. I believe that research is a platform for voices and experiences. It is a great tool to achieve positive social and political changes.
“This project will be the beginning of my lifelong career dedicated to approaching all personal, academic and professional challenges with an open mind, empathetic perspective, and the effects of trauma and healing in mind.”