Q&A: Chantal Umuhoza: Championing a woman’s right to choose
1. Briefly tell us about yourself
I was born in the Southern Province of Rwanda in 1986. I was the third in a family of 4 girls. I lost both my parents and two of my sisters in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
I moved to Uganda after the Genocide where I completed my high school education. I then returned to Rwanda to study at the National University of Rwanda where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. I am currently working with ARBEF as a project coordinator.
2. How best can you describe yourself?
I am an open minded and a social person. I believe in working hard and playing hard.
3. What was your childhood dream? Are you living it?
My childhood dream was to be a musician but as it turned out I don’t have the best voice around. So now I promote women’s reproductive rights, something I am very passionate about.
4. Briefly tell us about Safe Abortion Action Fund project that you work with
The Safe Abortion Action Fund is one of ARBEF’s projects aimed at reducing maternal mortality in Rwanda through advocating for a favourable legal environment that can reduce unsafe abortions and its complications.
The project also aims at seeking enough information regarding the reality of the abortion situation in Rwanda and to sensitise the public about the dangers of unsafe abortions.
5. What has been your experience as the coordinator of the Safe Abortion Action Fund?
When I joined university, I developed an interest in learning more about sexuality. I wanted to increase my own knowledge but also to be able to help those around me, especially girls.
I always found it unjust that unprotected sex, resulting in unplanned pregnancy, primarily affected only girls. It is sad when girls drop out of school and get stigmatised when they give birth before marriage or when they end up in arranged marriages because of unplanned pregnancies.
In 2005 while at the University, I decided to be a youth volunteer for ARBEF. In 2007, I was elected as the National Chairperson for the Youth Action Movement (YAM), the youth branch of ARBEF.
I continued to volunteer and participated in various projects of ARBEF, especially those providing information on issues of sexuality.
I learned how the effects of unwanted pregnancies also cause some to opt for abortions using unsafe and dangerous methods despite the illegality of the practice; they would face the risk of serious health complications, prison sentences and even death.
So, as the chairperson of YAM, I developed and acquired funding for projects to address different sexuality issues like advocating for youth friendly services in health centres and to promote public debate on the topic of abortion because the general public has always regarded the topic as taboo.
In 2011, I was employed by ARBEF to coordinate another project to advocate for safe abortion, this ended in January 2012 after which I was transferred to coordinate SAAF project.
5. What challenges have you come across as you do your job?
The main challenge I have faced is that the topic of abortion is considered taboo and so I face criticism from religious people and from people who believe that promoting safe abortion is against Rwandan morals and culture.
However, I am convinced that this mentality shall be overcome with time. Public health must take precedence over outdated traditional values.
6. Doesn’t your work and involvement in the Safe Abortion Action Fund project conflict with your religious beliefs?
My work does not conflict with my beliefs at all.
7. What do you say to critics of the draft penal law, especially when it comes to the articles pertaining to abortion?
It is inevitable that critics express their disapproval because different people have different beliefs regarding this topic.
The article is proof that the Rwandan Government does not believe that heavy penalties for abortion is justified or effective due to the numerous circumstances that may warrant the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape, incest and, unviable foetuses and when the mother’s health is in danger.
It is the responsibility of organisations and the general public to show the Government that it is not a religious or cultural matter but rather a public health issue.
I personally think the article is an important step towards safe abortion. However, a lot more is required to ameliorate this situation by providing a completely safe and legal environment for safe abortions to take place and that’s why our advocacy continues.
8. What do you think is the greatest challenge that a Rwandan woman faces?
The greatest challenge is the traditional mentalities of dependency. Similarly to other African traditions, Rwandan society historically placed women in disadvantaged position that left them almost entirely dependent on men for survival.
This mentality has been propagated over the generations and Rwandan women have to realise that they can do anything men do. The Government of Rwanda is doing a lot to motivate women to be part of the development process but it is up to the women to use this opportunity to believe in themselves and work hard to further themselves.
9. How do you spend your leisure time?
I enjoy watching television, listening to music and reading novels.
10. What is your current relationship status?
I am affiliated to someone.
11. What are your future plans?
My main future plan is to go for further studies and continue to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Contact email: doreen.umutesi[at]newtimes.co.rw