Rwandan women’s power in government evolving

Posted: February 16, 2011 in Evidence Material
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By Catherine MeidellFebruary 11, 2011

After the tragic Rwanda genocide of 1994, many aspects of Rwandan society changed, including women’s power in government, said Jean Dominique Gumirakiza, an applied economics graduate student.

Currently, 56 percent of the parliament and one-third of the cabinet is composed of Rwandan women in a republic government system. Just 15 years ago, these same women were subject to torture and sexual assault in the genocide, Gumirakiza said. During the genocide, an estimated 850,000 people were killed when the Tutsi people invaded the Hutus upon the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana, the Hutu president.

Gumirakiza witnessed the Rwandan genocide as a young boy and has watched the transformation of the country, said Anne Austin, director of the Center for Women and Gender.

Gumirakiza said, “The direction where our country is going is good because of its unity. This one (government) is doing a very good job. They want all the people to live together again.”

USU’s Center for Women and Gender hosted Gumirakiza as a guest speaker Wednesday, and Austin said she wanted Gumirakiza to convey information about the changes in Rwanda to broaden students’ understanding cultures foreign to them.

“It’s really important for us to understand the condition of all people,” Austin said. “It’s a matter of being a global citizen.”

Before the 1980s, a Rwandan woman could not go into public with a man or speak at all when a man was present.

“If you are a female, you were considered a property to a family. Your in-laws will pay some money to your family, and that’s it, you don’t go back,” Gumirakiza said.

Now, rather than be property, Rwandan women can own property. These rights started to take shape after the 1995 Beijing Declaration platform, which aims to grant women equal access to economic resources and presently Rwandan government allows women to have credit funding     and loans.

“You know women need to be promoted not just in the political space, but economic space,” he said. “The women’s achievements are truly inspiring.”

Professor of sociology Christy Glass asked Gumirakiza how men and women who live together divide daily household labors. Gumirakiza said it is normal now to see men cooking for those he lives with.

“Because of the awareness of the gender issues, you find many boys doing things that are usually done by girls,” Gumirakiza said.

Now, there are more than 40 organizations assisting women in Rwanda to protect the rights they have acquired in the last three decades, including the National Women’s Council. Gumirakiza said the dominant women’s organizations create a way for the Rwandan women to continue moving forward through lingering discrimination.

“All of this makes me feel like we (American women) have a lot,” said Kaitlin Larsen, a freshman majoring in sociology. “We are really lucky.”

Gumirakiza was able to earn his bachelor’s degree in Rwanda, and said he will always appreciate the new educational policies he was able to benefit from. During the Tutsi and Hutu rivalry, Tutsi’s were not allowed to attend school, but now, school is open to everyone. These policies are the result of changes created in a developing government system composed largely of females, he said.

“I feel because of this there is an increased number of educated women in Rwanda, of employed women,” he said.



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