One of the most vocal activists in Rwanda when it comes to women’s rights is Juliette Karitanyi. While she uses social media to call out those in violation, she also gives credit where it is due. As the world marked the International Women’s Day on March 8, The New Times’ Jade Natacha Iriza caught up with Karitanyi, picking her brain on where we are in the journey towards women empowerment. Juliette, let us begin at home. How is it like being a woman in Rwanda today? Today, a Rwandan woman is educated and empowered. She has laws in place that protect her and she is equal to a man in the law. Knowing that makes me happy. I can easily say or do anything I want that benefits me, or that is in my right because of the laws in place today in Rwanda. So I would say shes empowered. You are widely known as a women’s rights activist. But what does that actually mean? It means advocating for women so that they can be equal to men. It is asking to put in place laws or being against social norms that are harmful to women. In the family law, a man and a woman are equally heads of the family, but there’s still gender-based violence in homes. We still see people who think it is right for a husband to discipline or correct his wife by beating her. This is justified by the fact that a husband pays a bride price, they fail to differentiate culture and law, the bride price is seen as a payment for someone. So when we advocate for change, it’s for those kinds of mindsets to change. We advocate so that the laws in place are practiced and respected. Who is an empowered woman? A woman who is educated and knows her rights. A woman is empowered when she knows where to get help in case she faces any discrimination or violence. An empowered woman has access to opportunities, to money, to power, and more. If you had to change one problem in the world, what would that be? I would dismantle patriarchy. It is the cause of all the problems. The belief that men are dominant and women less important is not right. For instance, when a woman takes a taxi and goes somewhere late in the night, she prays to get home safely. I once asked my colleagues, “If you are at work, surrounded by 10 women and working late, would you feel threatened? Would you feel the same if you were surrounded by men?” I start overthinking the fact that I’m the only woman present and scenarios of what could happen to me. We need to make sure women feel safe wherever they are. We want women to be considered as human beings instead of objects of pleasure. Oftentimes, when someone is vocal about biases against women, they are branded ‘anti-men’.What would you say about that? Look at it this way, we cant be happy when we hear women being beaten, killed, or sexually abused every now and then. So, for the victims to hate men, it is totally understandable. If you were born out of rape, or got raped yourself, you tend to hate men. The thing our society doesnt understand is that anger is a natural emotion even for women. Women can be angry because their rights are not respected and be aggressive as they ask to be respected. When we hear 23,000 teenagers got pregnant, these are 23,000 stories most of which are rape. Do you think we are going to ask for change when we are happy? When we advocate, we educate men and the society at large. When equality becomes a reality, maybe we won’t be angry. How can such gender-based issues be addressed? Acts of violence most of the time are rooted in societal stereotypes. So the first thing is for women to be aware, and have information concerning their rights and the laws in place to help them. When an informed woman is raped, for instance, she will demand justice. It is very different for those who dont know. A woman living in a rural area, taught in church to be submissive, taught by the culture that her husband is the only head of the family and that she has to agree to everything, groomed in the bridal showers by her mother and aunties that men have a higher sexual drive and have to obey whenever he wants to have sex, That woman is very different from a woman whos perfectly informed of her rights. These are things we see every day. There is a need for collective efforts to break down all these biases and inequalities. So, how do we break these biases? First of all, women need to be educated, informed, and aware of their rights and laws. Collectively, everyone needs to be advocates for equality. We need to make equality a reality in our everyday lives, not just setting policies that no one practices. Society needs to understand that women deserve equal access to financing and equal pay. And, if she works for her money, let her have a say. For women, be financially literate and manage your own money. When married, you may decide together. It is not the husbands’ duty to deal with the finances as wife deal with other home chores. If someone touches you uninvited, call it out. Asking for consent should be taught and adopted by all of us. Being in a relationship doesn’t give someone the right to do things without your consent. There is a lot to be done and it’s not a woman’s job to remove biases. We are also thankful to our male allies who fight for gender equality. The battle goes on even beyond the women’s month… Any final message? On women’s day, my boss asked me if it was a good thing to celebrate the day. I said no. This is because we celebrate to conduct awareness, recognize milestones, but we also celebrate because we haven’t reached the climax. We need to do our part in promoting gender equality, then we will inspire others to do the same. Once all is well and done, maybe there won’t be any need to celebrate Women’s Day. I call on everyone to contribute to this cause. This conversation is also available as a podcast. Listen to it HERE.