Women rebuilt Rwanda from ashes of genocide
12:00 AM, April 03, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:41 PM, April 04, 2017

Women rebuilt Rwanda from ashes of genocide

Lawmaker Gakuba shares her thoughts with The Daily Star

The twilight on April 6 in 1994 appeared darker than the night in Rwanda.

A plane carrying the then presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down over Kigali, the country's capital, leaving no survivors.

It could not be known who were responsible. But within an hour, the presidential guards together with the members of the Rwandan armed forces and Hutu militia groups set up roadblocks and barricades and began slaughtering the Tutsis and moderate Hutus with impunity. Among the first victims of the massacre was the then Hutu prime minister who was killed the next day.

An estimated one million Rwandan men, women and children were killed by their fellow citizens only in three months between April and July in 1994.

The country's social, economic and political institutions were wiped out by the genocide. Rwanda plunged into a deep crisis.

A different chapter of the country's history then began in 1998 as Vice President of Rwandan Senate, upper house of parliament, Jeanne d'Arc Gakuba recalls the day when the leadership of her country, elderly people and others sat together to discuss how to rebuild the nation.

"Among different strategies, they decided very firmly to open space for women as they [women] were the majority of the population after killings of a huge number of males in the three months of genocide," said Gakuba in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star on Saturday.

"The leaders believed that if they empower women, they can contribute to enhancing good governance, economy and social welfare."

Rwanda adopted a new constitution in 2003 upholding social justice, equal rights of all Rwandans, and ensuring at least 30 percent position for women in parliament, in government, in local government and in political parties, she said.

"Following the constitutional provisions, the government immediately set up different institutions and ministries including ministry of gender and family promotion, national women council, women parliamentarian forum to empower women," observed Gakuba. 

Besides, according to the law, every political party is obliged to prepare a list of its prospectus candidates with men and women one after another before any election, she said.

"You cannot put women at the bottom of the list. Therefore, when you gain in the election, you don't have only men, but also women as well," she added.

The rest is now history.

Currently, in the lower chamber of parliament, 49 of 80 MPs are women, which is 61.3 percent. They hold 10 out of 26 seats in the upper chamber, Senate.

The Speaker and deputy speaker of the lower chamber are women. The two deputy presidents of the upper chamber of parliament are also women, said Gakuba.

In the cabinet, the ministers for foreign affairs, health, agriculture, labour, and family, the deputy governor of the national bank, the ombudsman, the deputy chief justice -- all are women. In the Supreme Court, seven out of 14 justices are women. Forty percent mayors and deputy mayors in the local governments are also women, she added.

She said before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda used to have a very few number of women in political position.

Asked how males reacted to the move to empower women, she said at the beginning, men were wondering if women got more position in politics, male domination would be curtailed.

"But males found that if women are in a good position they work both for their families and nation. And males understood that there is a profit if women are given space everywhere. They also understood in-together men and women would succeed more. And now males don't have any complaint."

The ideology of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Party turned Rwanda into a country of good governance that worked effectively, she said, adding, the ruling party had refused to rule the country only by its party people. It included all political parties who did not commit genocide. The ruling party also had taken a policy of unity and reconciliation, she added.

In the views of Gakuba, providing education for all, fight against early marriages for the girls, and also promotion of health services were vital to ensure women empowerment.

"Laws protecting the women rights are also important for women empowerment. Earlier, the Rwandan women didn't have the right to inherit property -- neither in her parents' families nor in her new families after marriage."

But now Rwanda's girls have the right to inherit property, she observed.

"Earlier, within the family registration of property was made after the names of male or husband. Now in Rwanda the law has guaranteed women to get fifty percent share of the family property."

She said media enjoys full freedom in Rwanda at present. Before 1994, the country had only one national radio and television station. "But after 23 years we have many private radio and TV channels."

She further said people from across the country can interact with the president freely through live media programmes. Every year the president organises a dialogue with more than 20,000 people from all walks of life to get their views.

She added people also can question, give new suggestions or advice to the president through the social media including Facebook and Twitter. They can also send SMS to the president and there are designated ministers to reply those SMS, she noted.

"This is how Rwanda has transformed into a brighter nation ending up its dark history."

Now, Rwanda is lauded as a world leader in women's political participation. International accolades abound.

In 2007, the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, was presented with the African Gender Award. In 2013, the country won the international 'Women in Parliament' award for its work promoting women's political empowerment.

Rwanda is now one of the fastest growing economies in the Central Africa.

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