Talk about a revolution! From a country which suffered one of the worst genocides in recent history, they are certainly showing up the rest of the world right now. In 1994 there was a major civil war outbreak between the Tutsi and the Hutu people, and it was estimated that over a period of 100 days, close to 1 million people were slaughtered. It was a moment in history that will never be forgotten, especially in the minds of Rwandan people.
How does a country even attempt to recover from something as atrocious as that? It didn’t happen overnight, but two decades later, the country is in remarkable shape, and a lot of the reform is thanks to the warrior women citizens.
Today, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women appointed to government in the world. Women account for 64 percent of its parliament. In comparison, America only has 18% and ranks 83rd in the world. Talk about real “first world problems”. By law in their country they must have at least 30% of the seats in government, including local government
After the horrific war in 1994, many people were forced to flee into neighboring countries by the rebel army that moved in and took over control. Of those that stayed behind 70 percent were female who were all of a sudden allowed to take control of a normally male-dominated society. While the cat’s away the mice will…rebuild a country and get it into shape like never before.
Women who were used to being stay-at-home mothers who had no say in society whatsoever were forced to learn various trades such as brick-building, but they were also allowed to opportunity to shape society they way they wanted, which was to give women equal rights.
This also meant they started to get involved in various levels of government. The movement of Rwandan women through government was made permanent by a 30 percent quota prescribed by the new government’s constitution, which also established a gender monitoring office.
The women filled every gap and got to work.
“The chaos can either set you back 100 years or crack open the culture,” says Swanee Hunt founder and chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security who has been working in Rwanda since 2000. “Things are never going back to where they were before and if you are adept enough as women, you can slip into those places where there are cracks and vacuums and fill them.”
Hunt says she asked Louise Mushikiwabo, minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, what would ensure a woman’s place in Rwanda when there was a new administration. “She said, ‘It’s no longer a question of quota insuring anything in the culture, it is the culture now.’”
Swanee is also writing a book called ‘Rwandan Women Rising’ which is a series of interview with the country’s female leaders. She teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she serves as the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy. The program unites female leaders of former or current conflict zones, from Kosovo, to Colombia, to Afghanistan.
Everything Rwanda has been through doesn’t just serve as an inspirational story, but as an example to other countries who are now going through similar struggles. Rwandan leaders have been reaching out to women in Syria to encourage them to see that they are the key to moving the country forward.
Here in the US, Secretary of State John Kerry and former US president Jimmy Carter have both spoken highly of the quality of female leadership and that they are instrumental in enabling a country to progress peacefully.
Today there is a generation of Rwandan children who will grow up without ever feeling the effects of that tragic time in their history, and will benefit from the hard work the women in government have been doing over the past 20 years. It is estimated 98% of the country’s girls are enrolled in school which means lack of education is now a thing of the past.
Eugenie Mukeshimana was 22 during the war and fled soon after to seek asylum in the US. Today she runs the Genocide Survivors Support Network in New Jersey. This organization sought advice from Holocaust survivors hose stories were eerily similar to that of the Rwandans, although from a very different era.
“This generation of young women is doing things that in my time at their age I wasn’t thinking about because society spelled it out to me that there were those limitations,” Mukeshimana says.
“I am amazed, I’m proud—but at the same time, it shouldn’t take a conflict as big as genocide for these changes to take place. There should be a better way to make the transition to gender equality without having conflict as a backdrop.”
Perhaps these women should be the type of role models that need to dominate headlines more often, and need to have their own hastags on social media. These are the real heroes who deserve media coverage and reality TV shows because the types of lessons the audience will be subjected to will only be positive. Let’s not lose sight of our fellow sisters around the world who are rising up to take a stand for future generations to live in peace, prosperity, and equality. In other words, things that are actually meaningful in life…