She is dedicated to the emancipation of Rwandan women
Immediately after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, Ingabire Imaculee boldly made her way back to Rwanda as one of the first Rwandan returnees.
As she coldly strolled past the scenery of devastation, Ingabire’s eyes painfully absorbed the aftermath of a grotesque tragedy. But her eye selectively zeroed in on what had befallen Rwandan women.
“I saw women who had been raped, they had used rape as a weapon during the genocide,” she said.
“After the genocide, I got the urge to fight for women’s rights. I researched and found out that women were abused sexually, physically, domestically and psychologically” she says. A journalist by profession, she felt equipped and obligated to expose the evils she terms as “violence” against women.
In 1994, with her mind made up she started taking strides that have today led her to be renowned as a resilient women’s rights activist. She quickly identified a Rwandan culture she says was still demeaning the Rwandan woman.
Her profession propelled her vision
In 1995, she became the Chief Editor of Invaho, a kinyarwanda newspaper. Ingabire was in a pivotal position that she thought would blend her new ambition and profession as a journalist.
“My intention was to advocate for women as a journalist,” she says of her role then.
An International women’s conference she attended in Beijing in 1995 invigorated her stance on women’s emancipation and reemphasized the need for women to voice out against oppression.
“During the meeting, one of the recommendations was to have 30 percent women representation in government,” she remembers.
At her new job as editor, a feeling of dissatisfaction started swelling up in her. She felt that her position wasn’t allowing her to be as close as she needed to be, to the numerous women countrywide whose rights were being abused.
After five years as Editor of Invaho, Ingabire strategically enrolled as a member of two emerging organizations.
“I joined HAGURUKA- Association of rights of women and children and was a founder member of ARRFEM- Association of women in media.”
She later joined a third organisation, Pro-Femme also known as Twese Hamwe, an umbrella organisation that comprises of 30 other organizations, also focusing on women’s issues.
In HAGURUKA, she enrolled for paralegal training, which was the beginning of her broadening from her editorial career to find her place in the women’s emancipation movement.
Before returning to Rwanda on the aftermath of the genocide, Ingabire had a vague image of Rwanda. This was because after making first entry in the 1970’s, three months later she had to head back into exile.
“In 1973, I was in Rwanda for three months but fled due to political instability,” she recalls.
She was born in the DRC in 1962 after her parents fled from Rwanda in 1960. She completed her education in Burundi after a successful distance learning course with the Universite de Lille.
With her meager earnings and some funding from the Catholic treasury her late father had worked for, she was able to finance her education.
“I was working in the Public Affairs section in a catholic church in Burundi, where I met a catholic father who was kind enough to pay my tuition fees,” recounts Ingabire.
An advocate in action
In 1997, after fully enrolling as an advocate for women’s rights, Ingabire took on her first task of pushing the Inheritance bill to Parliamentary.
She was at the forefront of this grueling campaign that had to conquer cultural mindsets that eventually led to the registration of the Inheritance Law. Passing of this law gives women the right to own property.
“According to the law, if a woman stays at your home even for a year she is entitled to ownership of property. Women are the primary care givers. They lose sleep looking after the children and the home. This is beneficial to the man and society in general,” she says with passion in her voice.
Facilitated by a gender sensitive government, Ingabire and other passionate female advocators then advocated for the Gender Based Violence Bill [GBV].
After an emotionally inciting debate in parliament the GBV bill proceeded to the next level. Presently, GBV bill awaits the signatory of the President and the Minister of Justice.
“My mission is to build the capacity of other women. The protection of rights is the bedrock of sustainable development,” Ingabire emphasizes.
Ingabire is a consultant with United Nations Development for Women [UNIFEM].