Muhanga District, Southern Province
Angelique is a secondary teacher at my school GS Kibangu. She has mentioned doing Gender Equality work in passing but I was never exactly sure what she did, so I decided to interview her for this week’s blog post. Angelique teaches history, Kinyarwanda and general paper. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in sociology. She is a mother and wife, and does all of the domestic work at her home. In other words, Angelique does it all, plus some.
TS: What gender work do you do in Rwanda?
AM: I am a secretary of National Women’s Council (NWC) at Muhanga District.
TS: What is National Women’s Council?
AM: National Women’s Council is a council set up by the government in order to make women participate in decision-making in the country. There is a policy implemented in Rwanda where women have to participate and provide their opinions in order to make sustainable development for both men and women.
TS: How often do you meet with the NWC?
AM: We make a general assembly once per year as well as special meetings for different events. There are other meetings in which we meet with sector coordinators of NWC at the sector level, and other women who compose the committee of the district and the sector. These are composed by seven women at each level, coordinator, secretary, a leader of welfare, a leader of good governance, a leader of justice, a leader of economic development.
TS: So there are seven of you working at the district level?
AM: And in each sector also there is seven.
TS: Do you ever go to Kigali to meet with everyone?
AM: Yes sometimes we meet at Provincial level and National Level. That general assembly is made for all levels, the sector, district, provincial, and national. Except at the village and cell, because of remitted means of transport, it becomes an obstacle to make a congress. They make an assembly by not a congress. In a congress we take a lot of time to discuss. A general assembly is made by not a congress.
TS: What is an example of something the NWC has done at Kibangu Sector? Or in Muhanga District?
AM: In Kibangu Sector, NWC participate in community work. They organize community work to help vulnerable groups, and the women who have lost all their children during the genocide, or who are single parents. They try to help them by buying them goats or giving them something to eat like beans, and buying them clothes sometimes. Those are on the level of the sector. On the level of the district we do many activities, like to build houses for poor people, to buy kettles for vulnerable families, and so forth. We also do sensitization about gender equality, sensitization about government policy.
TS: Does the money come from the government? Where does the money come from for building houses?
AM: The money for helping those poor families, are gathered from the women, but sometimes if it is a wide activity we can ask support from the government of the district, and other stakeholders.
TS: Why do you think gender equality is important in Rwanda?
AM: Gender equality is very important in Rwanda because without gender work we can observe imbalance in development issues. We cannot be developed without taking both parties, female and male, in participating in development. One cannot be sufficient. It is said that one pillar cannot build a house, this is the reason why we have to go together. And gender is very important, because if not all citizens participate in development process, what is achieved is seen as it is not their own, there is a lack of ownership. They cannot be responsible to the things that which are achieved.
Women in the last time were left behind. Nowadays in Rwanda the percentage of women make up more of the population than men. This is the reason why gender is very important. Men alone cannot develop a country, we have to work as a team and work together. Also women are important because every child pass more time with their mother than their father. By empowering women, we have a good future generation because it is the women who bring up the child.
TS: When you say in the past women were left behind, what do you mean?
AM: Women were not very involved in activities, which contribute to the development of the country. Due to culture, they were not going to school in a large number. There were some activities that were prohibited to women and allowed to made by men only, but nowadays all activities can be done by everyone without considering physical features.
TS: What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women in Rwanda today?
AM: Some who were born in the past years, have not studied. Some have not studied, and those who have studied have not achieved the highest level. It is not a high level of women who have PhD. Some also do not have many properties, which can help them to ask for loans in banks. Other obstacles is that women who are dropping out of school due to unwanted pregnancies, but the Government of Rwanda in collaboration with NWC continue to make sensitization about family planning to alleviate those obstacles. For example they provide all materials needed in the school like Kotex (femine hygiene products) in order so they can come to school like their brothers.
An obstacle is that some women do not recognize their rights. Through sensitization we are sensitizing about gender issues and the rights of both men and women about property.
Another issue is Gender-Based Violence. Gender-Based Violence still exists for some women, but there are also measures that have been taken. For example there is a one-stop center, and the police can help some women who meet such problem.
There is also family conflict and domestic violence.
TS: What is the one-stop center?
AM: The one-stop center helps those girls and women who are raped to make exams to prove if it is a rape and to continue in allegations.
In domestic violence and family conflict, some men are still beating their wives because of conflict based on property. Because of misused of gained income (from the woman) the men can consider it as his own only, and that causes disputes sometimes. These problems are handled or solved through “Umugoroba w’ababyeyi” where men and women meet and discuss about the issue, which happened in the family, and it is where advice is provided to make a peaceful coexistence between wife and husband.
TS: Does “Umugoroba w’abayeyi” happen at the sector?
AM: It happens at every village level, where they choose one day to meet. Sometimes we discuss other issues concerning social welfare, economic development, and good governance. It’s where we give sensitization and advice, which can contribute, to well being of family. For instance, adolescent girls can get advice on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
TS: So it is the NWC who does the “Umugoroba w’abayeyi”?
AM: The big participation is in charge of NWC but in collaboration with the whole government. People are sensitized how to make a good diet, how to fight against poor nutrition and hygiene, how to practice family planning, encourage to pay fees for health insurance, and how to make modern agriculture. All activities that contribute to sustainable development and welfare are provided during umugoraoba w’abayeyi.
TS: How often does the program happen?
AM: Sometimes the villages meet once per week, but sometimes just once per month due to lack of opportunities to meet.
TS: And anyone is welcome?
AM: Yes, anyone is welcome to contribute or get information. Then sometimes if we find a topic that is not in our career we can invite a professional. For instance we can invite a nurse to teach about a good diet or an agronomist to teach about farming. We also give advice for alcoholics, prostitutes, and those who become pregnant unwillingly.
TS: So you help to counsel people who have different problems?
AM: Yes, also family problems. There are many issues we talk about. We teach about the importance of sport. We continue to teach them about sport in health and in social contexts.
TS: What do you think Rwanda has done well for Gender Equality in the past ten years?
AM: Okay, the first is that the government of Rwanda in terms of Gender equality where they allow women to be people who participate in decision-making. For members of parliament, more women compose it than men. In that position those who representative of others they do advocacy for women’s problems, and many of them are being solved.
Also there is a guarantee from BDF to set up projects. They get a guarantee that is equal to 75% for getting loans. The government also encourages women to join cooperatives.
In capacity building they encourage many women and girls to go to school. There are many projects that help women to help them get training in terms of capacity building. Women can have much training in order to be competent like men.
AM: Men can help more because some man misinterpret gender equality but if men make a good interpretation of gender equality it can be better. Also men can help more by allowing their wives to go to income-generating activities, and allowing women time to go to meetings and in cooperatives. Men can help by accepting activities that were reserved for women and by not laughing at women who start to work at activities that were prohibited, for instance building a house. It would be better if men encourage their wives in participating in different activities without considering them as if they will go beyond men. Sometimes men think that women are looking down on them. Many people have understood the concept of gender equality and apply it, but some are still resisting. For instance when a man produces less than a woman it starts to cause some problems. A man can say, “no we won’t buy another house,” because it will be a shame for the man. The men want to be a higher achiever than the women, but the best is to be in complementarity.
TS: In America we also have gender equality problems especially in politics and business. Do you think there is anything that Americans can learn from Rwanda and the progress that Rwanda has made for gender equality?
AM: Yes I think America can learn many things from the progress have made. They can imitate some good policy set up by the government of Rwanda that contribute to the development of the well being of both men and women. They can copy those policies like to have a minimum of 30 percent members of the law-making body be women and 70% shared between men and women at all levels of government.
Women can also organize themselves and help other women who have few capacities. There are many programs that can be imitated by Americans. Also there are programs from other countries that can be copied by Rwandans.
TS: Great! Is there anything else you would like to add?
AM: Gender equality is a crucial element, which was needed. It came at a good time to be implemented. Through gender work, women have more self-confidence, rather than fearing to participate. Today they are confident, but before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi women feared to go to meetings. Even when they arrive at the meetings they did not participate and not give their opinions about the issue they were talking about. For instance when they were handling the conflict or a judicial case a woman could have a good idea on how to solve the problem, but she resists offering her opinion. But nowadays many women participate in Gacaca courts where those who committed genocide are judged. The women participate in mediation process. There are many women who are mediators. The women have a quality of making fair judgment without consuming corruption (bribes). They use fair judgment.
TS: Women have progressed very far in Rwanda.
AM: Women have reached to great progress. They are entrepreneurs. They are businesswomen. They are studying in higher education. They are asking for loans to make projects for income generation. They participate in decision-making. They contribute very much to family development. A woman today can buy a field and the man buys another so they increase their richness of property. Today she does not wait for what their husband brings to them only. They contribute and bring their efforts together.
|Angelique MUKAGATARE, |
Secretary National Women's Council Muhanga District