“ The struggle continues, we are happy to join forces with them, to see the continued emancipation of women,” President Paul Kagame, International Women’s Day, message to Rwandan and African women.
During President Paul Kagame’s, traditional monthly Urugwiro Village press conference, last week, a Burundian journalist asked him, how it was possible that Rwanda was making such big strides, in women’s empowerment.
The Presidents response was very clear, Rwanda’s leadership walks the talk.
“On the gender related question and what enables the woman to reach the level she has to attain – it is all about implementing things,” responded President Kagame.
Women’s empowerment has thus not only been confined to resolutions, conferences and other such political high sounding initiatives that do not deliver for women.
“Normally, I think that many people know what to do. But the difference is in doing what one says should be done, or simply doing it.
“What we try to do is not simply saying things but actually implementing them by way of the law, which involves following up so that they are really adhered to and, the results are these,” explained President Kagame on the current status of Rwandan women.
Rwanda is acknowledged globally, as a country that has emerged over the years, with the right policies and programmes for uplifting the status of women in all aspects of life. From the public sphere in which they dominate in parliament (56.25 percent), they are at least 40 percent in Cabinet, with a significant presence in the private and informal sectors.
The leadership position as articulated by President Kagame, on women’s empowerment, is important, to the women’s emancipation drive, making it a key ingredient in the fulfillment of this mission. However, such a position is not devoid of a historical context of struggle against a patriarchal dictatorship that used all forms of violence against both men and women.
This is why as we celebrate International Women’s Day, and make preparations for the 15th Commemorations of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it is instructive for us to reflect on the theme of violence and what it has meant for Rwanda as a society.
This year women celebrate International Women’s day, under the theme, “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.”
It is a theme, we can unpack within the above context of the highest office’s will for women’s emancipation, to a historical context in which violence has been used to subdue a whole society – men and women.
Through this we can further understand why today in Rwanda there is a zero tolerance for all forms of violence.
Rwanda’s history of violence from well before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is well documented.
The genocide in which over a million people perished, was not a one of event, but was part of a systematic government agenda implemented over decades.
The roots of violence are traced back to colonial days, during the Belgian occupation, whose political rule was based on divide and rule.
Violence which only ended after country’s liberation in 1994, after the Genocide, was a constant feature in the previous regimes rule.
It is a historical context, that should be taken into account, if we are to understand, what Rwandan women have emerged from, and more importantly, how the efforts over the past 15 years of fostering peace and reconciliation are bearing fruit.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the theme of stemming Gender Based Violence, becomes even more significant, if taken together with the current preparations, for the 15th Commemorations of the 1994 genocide under the theme; “let us keep alive the memory of Genocide against Tutsi by fighting its revisionism as we build our country.’
It has been 15 years of undoing the social and psychological damage of years of systematic violence against a whole society, impacting more on women and children.
It has been about understanding what violence does to a man, who is supposed to be father, care giver and head of family, in as much as it is about rape being an instrument of war.
Understanding the demeaning impact of violence, on persons, families and communities.
It calls for a deeper understanding that no matter how you avail opportunities for women, in all areas of life, for as long as they remain ‘battered’ then they remain oppressed.
That is why it is important for us to understand women’s liberation beyond just occupying certain offices, but it also means being free from all forms of psychological, sexual and physical abuse.
Uplifting the status of women, therefore becomes an integral part of Rwanda’s national agenda in breaking from a horrible past, in national politics to holistically restoring the woman’s dignity in the gender equality drive.
To restore the woman’s dignity, there are radical progressive moves meant to eradicate all forms of violence against women in society.
One has to peruse through the Gender Based Violence Bill, for instance, to get a glimpse of the leaderships mindset in dealing with this vice.
Not only does it define for instance marital rape, it outlaws extra-marital affairs, has heavy penalties for concubinage among others.
The emphasis on the ‘personal being political’, only means the GBV bill demands accountability in the way persons carry out their private lives.
For so long patriarchy has found comfort and refuge in perks that have included keeping mistresses, to the emotional stress of wives at home.
As we celebrate IWD, we craft a future in which tears on our cheeks, are a thing of the past. For that we need leaders who protect us.