At 64 per cent, Rwanda has the highest number of women in the Lower House anywhere in the world. It is also visually evident that women have played a massive role in rebuilding the nation after the horrific 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
However, there is still a major concern with the way women are treated in the sports fraternity. Last week, I wrote a story about Rwanda’s top female cyclist Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu who is seeking to write history as she bids to become the first Rwandan female ever to compete at the World Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia.
Ideally, this should be one of the most celebrated moments not only for her family, neighbours, teammates, cycling fraternity, fellow female athletes but also the country.
Girubuntu is a courageous young girl who is only 19 years old and has won the national championship twice – first as a 17-year-old and then when she turned 18 in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Hailing from Rwamagana, Girubuntu has risen to the top against all odds, from having people stare and gape at her on the roadside to people pointing fingers at her and calling her all sorts of names, including insulting her that she is a boy! How ridiculous is that!
For her commitment to her dream of competing against the world’s best female riders she is being sidelined by a people who should instead encourage and celebrate her. It is shocking to say the least.
It is this attitude that has seen young girls who are very active at the secondary school and university level retire from playing competitively for fear of public backlash for ‘looking like a man’ (read having an athletic body).
For this reason, therefore, you have the national leagues like basketball and volleyball dominated by high schoolgirls and not many older girls or women to look up to and this affects the national team in the long run as it will not have experienced players who have played at the high level.
When the girls start working and get married, they retire from active sport mostly because people discourage them from putting on shorts or getting some muscle on their arms and legs.
And when they give birth, it is a done deal. I know some ladies who have come back to the sport but people still point fingers at them and call them ‘unserious’ and that they need to know their role in society as being mothers and that is it.
British heptathlon star Jessica Ennis-Hill won the Olympic gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics and got married the following year and missed the 2014 season through pregnancy but, on Sunday, she clinched the world heptathlon title at the World Athletics Championships!
And we are talking about a grueling multi-sport competition, including 100m hurdles, shot put, javelin throw, high jump, long jump, 800m and 200m. Who said you cannot excel at the world stage after giving birth?