Women empowerment and women’s rights activism in modern-day Rwanda can mostly be traced to the period after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Today, the World Economic Forum ranks Rwanda as the most gender-equal country in Africa and sixth in the world, but some may not know that about three decades ago, this wasn’t always the case. Women were by law not allowed to own land, be employed or open a bank account without their husband’s written permission. Yet, certain incidences continued to minimise the position of women in society, for example when former Minister for Family and Women’s Affairs, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a convicted genocidaire, personally ordered that Tutsi women be raped and killed during the Genocide. The New Times’ Glory Iribagiza had an interview with Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor at Gender Monitoring Office (GMO), on the state of women after the Genocide and what the future may look like for them. What was the state of women after the Genocide against the Tutsi? It doesn’t need much research because even those who were young could see that a woman in Rwanda then was not in a good place in all aspects. Let us talk about governance for instance, because it changed quickly and better. Women in governance were very few. In late 1994 and 1995, there were only two women in the cabinet. In the parliament, we had only 14 women out of 70 members in 1994, but the number had increased to 21 in 1999, they increased to 23 in 2002, and after the constitution in 2003, that is when women involvement accelerated even more. The law stipulated a gender electoral quota of 30 per cent, which meant that no gender, male or female, should be less than 30 per cent. Women in parliament then became 48 per cent in the 2003-2008 term, and the following term, 2008-2013, the number grew to 56 per cent. In the 2013 elections, they became 64 per cent, and later, 61 per cent. All this shows that there have been progressive changes in the parliament for both genders to be represented because none of them is less than 30 per cent. But even in other aspects of governance, numbers have increased. It was very rare to find a woman heading an institution, but now it is normal to have a female permanent secretary, a female minister. In diplomacy, it is very obvious. What has been done to empower women? Other sectors, other than decision making-positions, include education. Girls were expected to study arts and simple vocations. If it were sciences, it was only in nursing. They believed women couldn’t understand maths, technology, and more. But today, first of all, there is a girls’ education policy, which shows that the government set the agenda for girls to go be supported to go to school. There are incentives for girls to study science and technology, and some schools were established, such as FAWE Girls, to deliberately boost the will of girls to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. It is already known that the problem was not their capability, because there is nothing that boys can study that girls can’t. Before the policy, when parents were disadvantaged, they would choose the boy over the girl to go to school. Even after the genocide, girls would stay at home anticipating marriage, while boys went on to graduate from university. The trend has changed. When we look at the numbers, there is gender parity in school enrolment because of the policies in place, such as the universal 12 Years Basic Education, which enabled all children to go to school. More schools were built so that children don’t miss school because it is far from their home; scholarships were given to the best performers to encourage the rest. It was a holistic approach to send girls to school, but also boys. What would you say are milestones in health and ICT? In 1995 and 1996, maternal deaths were shocking. Every woman who went to give birth, we weren’t sure they were coming back. We had high numbers of maternal deaths. The country invested in reducing the number of women who died while giving life. The ’90s were very hard. Now, the numbers have reduced from more than 1,100 per 100,000 women in 2000, to 203 in 2020. I wouldn’t try to see the difference in ICT because, in 1994, technology was low for both men and women. Women are still backward in digital literacy, but the pace is good. Women now use mobile money, which is linked to access to finance. 84 per cent of them have mobile phones, and 46 per cent of them use mobile money. Female traders used to carry their merchandise to the market and sometimes find it is not market day, but now a person can use their phone to call and ask their customers if they need something. They now receive money on their phones and send the merchandise on a motorcycle. All this is giving economic power to women that they didn’t have. Now, they can penetrate the market while sitting in their gardens. Do you think the laws in place will eliminate gender-based violence? Now we have laws. The problem is not why some people break them. Most importantly, gender-based violence is not tolerated in the country. We have people who have been convicted and penalised for it, and today, women and girls are starting to report. When you look at the number of reported cases, they increase every year. This is because services are being localised, because victims are told that when they seek help, they will get it. And they indeed get help. Beliefs of not “exposing” oneself when they report are reducing and we can see a change. Despite gender equality laws and policies, women representation remains low in some aspects. What ought to be done to bridge that gap? Our target is the full enjoyment of opportunities by both men and women. It is to remove everything that may hinder or stop anyone from accessing opportunities and rights. We have the institutions and the laws. The remaining thing is for the beneficiary and service provider to improve. I say beneficiary because if one doesn’t ask for a service, they may not get it. You have to know it is your right, and you have to claim it. I can give an example. In procurement, tenders are applied for online. If you don’t have any computer literacy or anyone who can help you apply for it online, you will not stand a chance for the tender. This means we have to implement systems that allow people who are not in school to be trained in computer literacy. Women are left out on big tenders not because they have been deprived, but because of digital illiteracy. We have to avail the tools needed. This is also where the service provider comes in. They have to do everything possible to approach women. They shouldn’t sit still just because no one has come to request services.