Joyeuse Victoire Umukunzi is a prominent advocate of gender equity and inclusion. She has served as a gender minister at the University of Rwanda, president of Girls’ Leadership Forum at the same University and she is a member of Impanuro Girls Initiative, a non-government organisation that empowers girls and women.
The gender activist shared her insights with Women Today’s Florent Magnifique Hirwa on the concept of women empowerment and the current perceptions and attitudes towards gender equality.
What does the word ‘gender’ bring to your mind?
The word ‘gender’ is more often used in relation to cultural and social differences between male and female. Contrary to its attribution to women in most societies, I understand that it is not just about women and girls. It incorporates men and boys as well.
Umukunzi says that gender is not about women and girls only, it incorporates men and boys as well.
Why is gender usually seen as something related to women and girls only?
The bias has roots in history. Because women were largely excluded globally, the majority of the policies currently in effect seek their inclusion. This is why people novel to the idea of gender inclusion define it by what it looks like in their context.
How do you picture an ideal gender equal society?
It would certainly provide equal rights, opportunities and freedom to men and women alike. Most importantly, it should be built on complementarity of genders where, instead of perceiving differences (cultural, historical, biological and ethical) as something undesirable, differences are viewed as an opening for diversity and common betterment. The work environment should equitably allow both genders to thrive with what they are best at in consideration of circumstances.
Various policies are in place to facilitate women empowerment. What can you say about their effects?
Positive discrimination policies are a good thing in the short-term. There are many things that we thought women were naturally not capable of doing, for instance. But thanks to those measures, we know that they are excellent at those. However, things can play out differently in the long-term. For example, if a student or employee is used to getting promoted easily because of being a certain gender, s/he might eventually not work as hard as s/he could. With this comes an unproductive misuse of the measures. Issues at hand can be effectively addressed. But once prolonged, the policies can be abused leading to adverse consequences.
What would you say to people who are against the concept of gender empowerment?
If we look at the reason behind those views, usually it is because they have been exposed to more radical and extreme versions of empowerment and feminism. We need to present more inclusive versions of the idea that take on complementarity and coexistence. That way, we can boost our performance on gender equality and equity.
Anything else you might want to add?
Just like everything else, our ideas and perceptions of gender will change with time based on circumstances. It is therefore, ideal to keep an open mind in these discussions.