Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Teddy Ruyenzi has just returned from South Sudan where she was heading a unit of 160 police officers, dominated by women under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
This contingent, dubbed RWAFPU-3 was the first of its kind and was charged with varied peacekeeping responsibilities including ensuring safety and security for two civilian camps as well as supporting humanitarian activities.
Other special assignments included biometric registration and escort of primary and secondary school students from camps to Juba town for national examinations, and responding to security incidents.
Ahead of the Liberation Day, ACP Teddy Ruyenzi talked to The New Times’ Nasra Bishumba about that and why women today have a lot to be grateful for 25 years after liberation.
Where did it all begin? At what point did you know that you wanted to be in law enforcement?
I have always loved anything to do with law enforcement. I grew up in a neighborhood where there was a young military lady and I used to be fascinated with how organized and well put-together she seemed.
When the Liberation Struggle started in 1990, I was about just17 years old and I was in Burundi. I was curious about what it was all about and a few years after that, I enlisted to join.
However, my involvement was not military because I was based in Burundi.
My duty was to sensitize people, trying to drum up support for those on the frontline. When the Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped in 1994, I continued with the work in Ruhengeri (now Musanze) but not long after that, I decided to return to school.
By that time, I was 21. After I completed school, I joined prosecution and my first job was to work on genocide suspect files.
In 2000, I took a six-month course to join Rwanda National Police and officially joined as a Police Constable.
I rose through the ranks and currently, I am Assistant Commissioner of Police and I have been in the national police for about 19 years to date.
Tell us a little bit about your peace keeping missions…
The great thing about being in police is that the training never stops so you keep progressing year after year. I have just returned from South Sudan where I have been since 2018 as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
This was a special mission because it was not a team replacing another but instead, it was a brand new one.
What was special about this particular mission was that the team is usually 50/50 when it comes to gender but when we got there, collectively with other police picked from all over the world; this team had more women than men.
When we got there, there was a lot of excitement. The UNMISS leadership was very happy to receive us because there are camps that have very many women and children and they were happy to have a team that was mostly made up of women that would protect them from gender based crimes like rape.
The UN is also keen on gender parity and they prefer to have both men and women working together in areas ravaged by conflict due to the nature of the issues that come with the turmoil.
While there, we were involved in community policing, patrolling, helping crime investigators, supporting those who were teaching about crime investigation and providing security for UN personnel especially the women.
This was however not my first time in peacekeeping.
In 2010, I was sent on a peacekeeping mission in Haiti where I was for one year. On this mission, we were instrumental in teaching their police force on matters regarding gender based violence where we taught them how to make dossiers.
Based on your experience, do you think that there is need for more women in conflict situations?
Absolutely! I don’t see a valid reason why not. The steps made towards that direction have been great.
In fact, there are so many times when I have reflected on how visionary our leadership is because when the UN put a call out for that unique unit, Rwanda was ready since it had over the years trained women who fit into this profile so well.
For a country like ours to be competing with countries like China that have had a police force since 1920 is not an easy feat.
When you look at the people who suffer during conflict, its women who suffer the most. If you give more women an opportunity to join peacekeeping forces, you are helping other women who have been victims of conflict because they can actually now open up.
When we got there, the women broke into song and they particularly like Rwanda because they have heard so much about our country and they have worked with our other units.
How do you manage to balance this kind of job with family?
I am married and I have four children. The oldest is in his first year at university and he is 19 and the youngest is five.
It requires lots of planning and talking with the family because if you don’t do that, you are likely to lose your job or your family. I talk to my partner a lot and I make sure that he knows my every move and he is very supportive.
I also have very open conversations about why I have to be away for long periods with my children and so far, we have been doing just fine.
Would you say that today’s Rwandan woman is very different from the one before liberation?
Absolutely! The difference is significant. In the past, there were so many factors that would for example be considered before a girl is given an opportunity to study.
If the family was not financially stable (which was the case in majority of families) the opportunity to go to school was given to the boy.
If you were lucky to both me in school, the political environment was on of ethnic segregation and it trickled down to gender where they would not pick you for a particular school despite your performance.
If you got married, your husband would be the one to determine if you can get now pursue a career or if you should quit your job and stay at home.
President Kagame once said that a woman’s ability has always been there, what is important is to remove the barriers that block them from realizing their potential.
I couldn’t agree more. Women are now going to school, they are getting employed, they are leaders, they are making decisions and most importantly, there are laws that are there to give every Rwandan a right to pursue their dream despite their gender.
What are the challenges that come with this job?
They are not really many but the issue we have is that society has not yet really embraced the fact that a woman is capable to take on a job like mine and do it as well as a man. It will take time.
In fact, even when we got to South Sudan, there was a bit of skepticism but we did our work diligently and in a very short while, whether it was the UN or the people were very impressed with our abilities.
What advice would you give to young women who may want to join police?
I would tell them that immediately after school, they should consider joining us. It is not easy to get into this force.
When an offer is made for a cadet course, there are about 5000 applications but in the end, they have to pick about 400. The great thing about this job is that we are constantly trained. If you are focused and determined to rise, all you need is to work hard and you will go far.
Would you say that you are living your dream?
Absolutely. I am living my dream. I have always been a focused and organized person because I usually set out to do my work with clear objectives.
I continue to do my best to deliver on whatever the duties that I have been assigned and it has over time, paid off.