Ngoma District, Eastern Province
My name is Brooke and I have been a volunteer in Rwanda for over 8 months now. I joined the Gender and Development Committee, because for the first time in my life, I see extreme gender discrimination and I wanted to do something about it. Growing up as a female in America, this was never something I saw and felt on a day to day basis. Not to say that gender equality isn’t an issue in America, because it is, but because I had never personally felt blatantly discriminated against for being female. At my young age of 23, I’ve never been turned away from a job because I am a woman. I’ve never felt unequal to or less favored by teachers than my male peers. I’ve never been told that certain things I desire were out of my reach because I am a woman. Living in Rwanda for these past 8 months has opened my eyes up to many things, one of which is the obvious gender inequality that exists here and in other developing countries all over the world.
A problem that I have continually faced during my projects here is getting girls to participate…in anything. I have had multiple events at the community center in my area, including a World AIDS Day event and art lessons in the center, and yet, only boys show up. Maybe 1 in 15 of the students who showed up to these events was female. My first response to this was frustration. Why would girls not participate? Don’t they want to better themselves and seize these opportunities? After some time and thought, I began to try and understand these girls a little better. Do they not participate in these events because they are helping with household chores at home? Maybe they are shy and insecure because the culture values them less than their male peers. It was through this more understanding approach that I came up with the idea for my next event. I hoped this event would allow these girls to come out of their shells and participate in an activity without fear.
I asked one of my coworkers if he would help teach a traditional dance class at the community center every week for a month. I had heard from other Rwandese that this was an activity that young girls enjoyed very much. My coworker, Pacifique, performs in the nearby town occasionally and is an incredible traditional dancer. He agreed and the first lesson was a big hit with the community. The first lesson was half girls and half boys. This event had a better turnout for girls than all my other events combined. As the weeks went on, the boys stopped coming and more and more girls were showing up. Unfortunately, after a little over a month, my coworker became too busy to continue the lessons. I still felt that these lessons were a huge success, even though they were short lived. Girls were willing to participate in certain things and in order to figure that out, I just need spend more time getting to know them and trying to understand them.
I had heard traditional dance referred to as “the dance of the lion” before I had started these lessons, but I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until later, when I learned that in the past, only male dancers participated in traditional dance, that I truly understood the irony of these all female dance classes. I think it’s safe to say that after the primarily female dance classes, the girls of Mutenderi (my village), can now refer to traditional dance as “the dance of the lioness.”