The story of Rwanda could be characterised as the story of mothers throughout the country. While all countries are blessed with mothers, Rwanda’s specific history has highlighted the strength and resilience of millions of mothers. The impact these women have had on their sons helps to propel the development that Rwanda has become an international beacon for.
History has fundamentally changed gender in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s history has placed incredible strain on the mothers of this country. It is the mothers who saw their children give the ultimate sacrifice to liberate the country; it is the mothers who raised children alone because fathers were no longer there, and it was the mothers who are at the heart of reconciliation by spreading it in households throughout Rwanda.
Rwanda’s leadership made the clear decision at liberation to empower women and make gender equity a key tenant of this country. International statistics show that this was more than mere policy but has been implemented and has made Rwanda a global leader in gender representations in all levels of Government. According to a World Economic Forum report, “At 86 per cent, Rwanda has the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world.”
Young men throughout the country have grown up in homes with their mothers as high ranking government and private sector officials. It is entirely common for members of the millennial generation to have been raised in a home with their mothers as the primary breadwinner. This has never been presented as strange, but as a conscious effort on the country’s part to use all the available talent in Rwanda.
How this impacts young men professionally and in relationships
As young men coming from these homes enter the workforce, their perceptions of gender are in stark contrast to an older generation of men. Young men do not fear working for powerful women but on the contrary many actively seek these opportunities due to the success they see women have in Government. Because mothers are often professionally successful, they are the ones young men go to for professional advice and connection. This means that young men continue to surround themselves with female leaders, reinforcing the environment that they have grown up in. One will assume that in many years to come these young men will not be able to fathom discriminating against women in the hiring process, or when it comes to promotions. For these young men, gender has played no role in the success they have seen in women in the workforce. A look at the pictures from the National Leadership Retreat this year showed that every civil servant in some way had a female boss.
Many women have also raised their children alone. This means that functionally, many men have grown up surrounded by mothers and aunts as their go-to for life advice. This has built these relationships to include frank discussions about education, psychology and romance. Many millennials will say that due to honest discussions with their mothers about relationships, they view relationships with their partners fundamentally differently from their father’s generation. Perhaps one of the central changes is that today the ideal female partner for young Rwandan men is a very professionally accomplished Rwandan woman. The idea of a dependent spouse is often rebuffed as undesirable.
How this will play out in the future
It’s difficult to see exactly how this will play out in the future though one can assume that if the leadership of the country continues to make gender equity important, then the benefits will grow exponentially. One can only assume that these young men will raise their daughters to be professionally focused, speak out, lean in when opportunity arises and seek partners that respect them completely. Education statistics today suggest that young girls are reaching for their future with “96 per cent of young girls enrolled in school compared to 94 per cent of young boys.”
A friend recently remarked that his only goal in life was to ensure that by his death his children were educated and owned their own homes. It was only later on in the conversation that his friends realised that he had a girl and a boy — but at no point did he present different goals for these two children based on their gender. The ownership of property continues to be a tool used throughout the world to hold women back, but this comment by this young Rwandan man goes to show that gender equity is in the Rwandan psyche.
Rwanda still has work to do
While so much has been achieved, gender equity has not been achieved by any stretch of the imagination. From teenage pregnancy to spousal abuse, there are still lingering ills that hold this process back. The Rwandan people have prioritised fundamentally changing these problems but as with all social change, this work takes time.
But as Rwanda continues to work on these issues, the future looks bright. Mothers continue to mentor young men and help guide their thinking. These young men continue to shed prejudices of the past. Provided these efforts are continued in earnest, the world will always be better for daughters of Rwanda.