Women’s day in Rwanda; progress and challenges
Bibiane van Mierlo, March 9th 2018
Rwanda has made great progress in gender equality, largely driven by government commitment. Gender equality is enshrined in the constitution and Rwanda was the first country in the world to have more than 50% female members of Parliament.
Rwanda is a special case. After the massacre of up to 800,000 people in 100 days during the civil war of 1994, they were in short supply. Women, who had suddenly become 70 per cent of the population, had to step in and out of their children single-handed. This generation has grown dominant, by force of circumstance. But the government response was also far-seeing, giving formal rights to equal pay. The key to women's progress in Rwanda is that it is not just about money: at least 30 per cent or all of the decision-making jobs in the public sphere must be held by women (What Rwanda can teach about gender equality Spectator 2018)
But it's not all positive. According to this article in the Spectator, the Rwandan correspondent Maggie Mutesi, a popular Rwandan journalist, spoke to a young female student who complained that girls are still at school. For a woman to get a loan from the bank, it's much easier if a man goes with her. Ask a man why he will be his wife and he will reply, 'Because she went out without my permission.'
During the recent years there has been a strong emphasis on fighting gender based violence (GBV). Women have the same rights to inherit land as men. Girls are equally as likely to attend school as boys
and there is a Girls Education Policy and Implementation Plan in place.
But in daily practice perceptions of gender roles, persistent stereo types and traditional patriarchal attitudes continue to prevail…as I could witness myself on Women’s Day 2018.
On the evening of this internationally celebrated day, I received a well intentioned WhatsApp from a dear colleague. In an eloquent poem, dedicated to all women of the world, key roles were listed in an attempt to make the world understand
how precious women are. All roles described were related to her tasks as a housewife, mother of children and caretaker. She even got applause for becoming so much fatter as the result of her many pregnancies and she was mostly praised for the fact that she
sacrificed all her time, body and energy for improving the well-being of her husband.
I first thought this was a joke but when sharing the WhatsApp with my team (a group of well-educated scriptwriters that live in Kigali and develop modern radio soaps towards peacebuilding & reconciliation) all male staff members were impressed by the beauty of the poem and the wisdom of the poet. This was their culture, they explained me. The positive point of this story was the fact that the female scriptwriters totally disagreed with their male colleagues and benefitted from the occasion to raise their voices; we continued the discussion for more than an hour. So far so good ; at least this Women’s Day contributed to some awareness raising among my own staff.
what does this mean for the majority of women, especially for those that do not live in Kigali but in the poor rural areas of Rwanda and who don’t have the opportunity to express themselves like my dear female colleagues? In Rwanda, the gap between men
and women employed in non-farm work for example is widening and the target of 50% of women in paid non-agricultural employment by 2015 has not been met. Rates of domestic violence are still very high and there continues to be a high level of tolerance for
domestic violence by both men and women; more than half of the women experience a form of gender-based violence committed by a partner (“Everyday partner violence in Rwanda Annemiek Richters, Emmanuel Sarabwe)
Much remains to be done, also in Rwanda to close the gap between best intentions formulated at national level, beautifully wrapped up in policies and the raw daily practice at household and community level.
And that’s where Culture for Change steps in. Our methodology is based on getting a better understanding of this gap between international programming to address GBV and local concepts used to understand the issue. Campaigns against GBV are often built on an internationally validated ‘rights based approach’, where ‘local culture’ tends to be seen as part of the problem. C4C advocates for another view, in which culture, rather than being seen as a deficit that fuels violence against women, should be harnessed as a dividend in national National Action Plans on Violence against Women. The design and application of “mindmaps” and the establsihmnet of net work at household level helps people to navigate through local customs and beliefs to rights-based solutions and opens new ways of communication to understand GBV and what can be done to stop it.