To mark International Women’s day, several political leaders including members of parliament and local leaders are gathering at the village level to honour women and girls.
Among them is Hon. Alphonsine Mukarugema, the President of the Rwanda Forum of Female Parliamentarians (FFRP).
Born on September 25th, 1953 in the current Muhanga District, she attended Mushishiro Primary school before going to Groupe Scolaire Notre Damme Lowdes Byimana. Thereafter she ventured into teaching until political instability affected their lives in Rwanda later pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law at Kigali Independent University (ULK) in 2010.
“After Secondary School, I didn’t have access to University so I started teaching in Primary schools. Later my family and I went into exile in the current Democratic Republic of Congo in 1973. There, I got married to the late Lazarus Nteziyaremye Migabo in 1977 and we were blessed with four sons,” Mukarugema said.
With almost a 30-year-long teaching career in both primary and secondary level, she said that she never thought she would join politics.
“My commitment to joining politics was based on what I witnessed during the1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. I lost my husband and my first born son during the genocide,” Mukarugema said.
She cites the minimal number of women involved in decision making as one of the reasons that the genocide happened.
“Prior to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, had a great number of women been involved in decision making, I strongly believe that the genocide would not have taken place. Committed and patriotic strong- hearted women wouldn’t have allowed this genocide to happen. These women would have done everything in their power to prevent it because it was women and children who were most affected by the genocide,” she explains.
She says that the Government policy after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which involved women in decision making, also lured her into joining the political sphere.
“The relationship I had with other women in my home area and different women associations encouraged me to join politics so that I could advocate for their rights. They trusted me and I wasn’t afraid to take on any political post that came my way,” Mukarugema explains.
The 59-year-old Mukarugema was the Mayor of the current Muhanga District from 1999 to 2001 and later became the first Mayor of Kamonyi District from 2001- 2003. Right after her term of service ended, she became a Member of Parliament to this date.
Save from being President of FFRP, she is also the Chairperson of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, Rwanda and therefore at the forefront of advocating for maternal and child health in Rwanda.
“As women in leadership positions, we have the power to advocate for women in all sorts of situations. Our main target is to improve the welfare of citizens. We greatly advocate for safe motherhood because a healthy mother is a healthy family. It is our job as women in Parliament to ensure that maternal mortality rate in Rwanda reduces,” she says.
“We always aim at addressing Millennium Development Goals. For instance we want to meet the 2015 target of the reduction in both child and maternal mortality rate in Rwanda. We are committed to that and these deaths will have reduced significantly by then. This is attained through interaction and trainings we have with different people and communities in the country,” Mukarugema emphasized.
Just like any other goal or programme set in life, the Parliamentarian and her colleagues meet different challenges in their fight to reduce child and maternal mortality rate in Rwanda.
“We work with different positions in the communities but our greatest challenge is to change the mindset of the people in these communities. For example, trying to convince a woman who is accustomed to giving birth at home to make use of hospitals can be really hard. She will insist she has done it before with no complications and therefore feels more comfortable at home,” Mukarugema said.
According to the MP, poverty is another challenge. Most expectant mothers steer clear of hospitals because they can’t afford the bills.
“Besides worrying about hospital bills, expectant mothers in these rural places lament that when they go to have their baby at a health center, there is need for someone to bring food to the hospital and there is no one available to watch the children at home. They do not seem to realize the danger of having a baby at home. So we try to convince them about the risks,” she reveals.
Women, especially in rural areas need to be sensitized about safe motherhood.
Hon. Mukarugema acknowledged the contribution of Community Health Workers in convincing women especially those in rural areas to seek proper medical attention when having a baby, thus promoting safe mother hood in Rwanda.
In line to this year’s theme for the International Women’s Day, ‘Empower Women and Girls to sustain families,’ Hon. Mukamugema said that its objective aim is to empower women and the girl child.
“This theme shows the role a woman and girl in family promotion. Educating a woman is educating a family and hence a nation” she states.
Therefore, a month dedicated to women and the girl child, Mukarugema says, will be launched in order to address women’s rights and issues.
“I call upon all women and girls to take up their roles in this campaign. We must take good care of our families in terms of nutrition, education and economic empowerment in order to eradicate poverty,” Mukamugema says.