July 6, 2015
By Nasra Bishumba originally posted on AllAfrica
“There are no losers. When women advance, everyone benefits. The key principle, in addition to understanding gender equality as a human right, is to use the talents of all our people to the full potential, in politics, business and elsewhere. This is common sense if we want to advance and improve our societies.” President Paul Kagame.
When the first bullet went off at Kagitumba border in October 1990, the big plan was to break the shackles of being referred to as refugees for over 30 years and to build a country that would provide peace, stability and development for its entire population.
As the road to recovery began, women were engaged in rebuilding the socio-economic fabric of the nation as equal partners and, 21 years later, Rwandan women have become a beacon of hope for countries where the advancement and respect for women rights are still distant.
Today, women make up 52 per cent of Rwanda’s population. One of the pillars of this government has been promoting gender equality and empowering women as a cornerstone of the country’s development strategy.
Patricie Uwase is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering. She is currently organising a mentoring camp that will bring experienced women leaders in Rwanda together with 100 high school girls from all over Rwanda.
The women’s mentoring camp is conceived as an environment for connecting generations of women leaders in Rwanda.
Uwase is part of a new generation of Rwandan women who are using the fruits that they have reaped from liberation to impact other young Rwandans. Needless to say, the field of engineering, which she partook, was almost taboo for women in the pre-liberation Rwanda.
“I think the young Rwandan woman is lucky to be living in an era where anything is possible. With the right opportunities and exposure, we can achieve anything and that is the reason why I am passionate about what I am doing right now,” she says.
Uwase says that the Rwandan woman today cannot be compared to the one of 21 years ago.
“20 years ago, right after the Genocide, the whole country was devastated. Today, Rwandans, and women especially, are hopeful and can dream anything that they want,” she says.
Today, Rwanda is leading with the highest proportion of women parliamentarians, with 56.3 per cent between 2008 and 2013 and at 64 per cent from 2014.
This, observers say, is as a result of a deliberate policy to empower the Rwandan woman, anchored on the 2003 Constitution which requires women occupy at least 30 per cent of all decision-making organs anywhere in the country.
Rwandan women’s participation in national development has helped fast track the implementation of the 12 critical areas of Beijing Platform for Action, which was adopted in 1995, a milestone that has put Rwanda on the world record in the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Irene Kakuze is a guard with one of the international security companies in Rwanda. Kakuze attributes her employment opportunity to gender equality.
“This job was always considered a man’s job, but when gender balance became something that people took seriously, we started seeing companies opening up to the idea of employing females too and that is how I ended up here,” she says.
Kakuze says that the liberation of the Rwandan woman is something obvious in many areas.
“Gone are the days when it was normal for a man to abuse his wife everyday. At least now, if the wife doesn’t speak out, the neighbours do. You really have to be brave to beat up a Rwandan woman today because she is now spoken for,” she says.
According to a report by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, today, Rwandan women make up 50 per cent of community mediation and conflict resolution committees, commonly known as Abunzi.
From 2005 to May 2014 alone, up to 446 women police officers have served in United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions. Including Sudan (Darfur, Khartoum), South Sudan, Haiti, Ivory Cost and Liberia, Mali and Central African Republic.