I’m lucky to have been born in a country that values women. From young girls to grown adults, we are taught in Rwanda that anything is possible and that the society around us will support us in all of our endeavours. The truly great part of all of this is that it applies to women across the spectrum; from rich to poor, from rural to urban living. Every woman in this country has equal opportunity.
The hitch comes when the type of support provided is limited and sometimes quite biased.
In the past, I have spoken about how unfair certain societal norms are for women and men in Rwanda. For example, Rwandan parents will encourage their daughters to go to university and start a career, however, at the same time allowing no sense of independence to ever come about. They enjoy the idea of their daughter going out to a foreign land for education but during the holidays, tie a leash to their neck and watch their every move.
When school is done with, before that career has even been started, there is talk of marriage. Does this girl even know how to pay a bill? Oh, don’t worry; her husband will take care of that. This is a generalisation but it is very real to women around us.
Yes, no matter how much we like to believe we have moved on from those days, men in our society are seen as the main breadwinners of families and that will not change soon. I believe that if the women in leadership positions in our country did more to challenge these norms, our empowerment could make huge strides. I am not saying everyone should live outside of the home. I’m just saying that if the women in power acted as mentors and really interacted with the general women they would know our concerns and understand what they need to push in the respective institutions.
For example, one of our lovely women leaders is pushing for Rwanda not to create retirement homes for older people since it is not part of our “culture” (a word I am growing to hate). She believes that families should take in their elders once they are not able to take care of themselves. Personally, what I have seen is that this leads to the women of the household taking care of this elderly person and not necessarily the man.
The woman has to take care of her kids, the home, and go to work only to come back and find out the elderly person has refused meds, can’t remember if they ate, has an aversion to every type of food. If this leader actually examined the pros and cons of having an elder in the home, she would know that it is not easy and it would be better for them to be taken care of at a retirement home to ensure everything is fine.
This also applies to the sex education and abortion laws. More needs to be done regarding this by educating more women and going for what suits their needs and not what fits our culture.
Please interact more with young girls and women. I have had better advice from men than women; I have been offered more opportunities especially in my career from Rwandan men who want to see us succeed. We have to do better. What do my fellow 21st century women think?