Here at GAD, our focus, and our namesake, is Gender and Development. Our job is to develop gender related resources and programming, plan gender empowering events or activities, and spread awareness about gender news, in regards to both progress and continual struggles.
But GAD efforts go beyond just the committee itself. Within their many GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and BE (Boys Excelling) clubs and camps, volunteers seek to educate youth about gender, trying their best to convey dense and often abstract concepts in digestible, comprehensive forms. They facilitate lessons and exercises in gender equality promotion, women and girls' empowerment, thoughtful leadership and gendered allyship.
I cannot speak to others' experiences, but in my own, it has been incredible to watch the strides a number of my students have made towards understanding the complex notion of gender, and discussing and devising ways they can promote gender equality in their homes, schools, and communities. I can see many of my girls displaying increased confidence in class, volunteering to answer questions, and thoughtfully contributing to discussions during club or class time. Moreover, I have seen evidence of some of my boys beginning to defy traditional gender roles, proudly telling tales of their efforts to help their mothers and sisters around the house, and actually trying to understand the meaning behind that mysterious phrase "gender equality," instead of simply regurgitating it as a known ideal.
Proud as I am of my kids, I do not want to present a false optimism, the idea that these kinds of behavior changes and attitudes have come about quickly or easily during my short tenure at site. Many of my students had been exposed to these ways of thinking long before I arrived, by previous volunteers or teachers, by attending past camps or workshops. Some of the most drastic changes I have personally witnessed have taken over a year to really bloom, aided by frequent encouragement and reinforcement in the form of clubs or personal friendships.
Yet perhaps above all, I also recognize that many of these accomplishments, these small triumphs towards our expressed goal of "gender and development," have not, could not have progressed to the extent they have by a merely singular discussion of "gender." After all, gender itself is not solely responsible for a given person's life experience, though no one can deny its tremendous influence. I am approaching now, the thesis of this post, an aim that I try to incorporate throughout all of my teachings on gender, for it has been tried and true that individuals learn and retain best from lessons or narratives they can relate to in multiple fashions. I am talking about intersectionality.
What is intersectionality? It is, quite simply as it sounds, the interconnectedness of many different social identities coupled with their respective social institutions or systems of oppression. It means that you cannot have a discussion about say, gender, without also addressing factors like race, class, sexual orientation, location, or religion, that together heavily contribute to an individual's identity. Even if we are focusing more directly on one of these narratives over the others, each identifier remains a factor that affects each person's unique experience. That is to say, that a more privileged, upper class woman or girl living in the city may view the societal constraints of her gender much differently than her lower class, village dwelling counterpart.
Intersectionality is important when talking about gender, because gender itself is not a singularly uniform concept. It is of course true, that women/girls and men/boys have many definite shared experiences within their respective genders due to societal gender norms, but these may vary greatly depending on subsidiary factors. While you can promote certain ideals for gender equality or equity, share common goals towards development, it is necessary to entertain a diversity of experiences so as not to invalidate any individual's unique gendered reality.
Of course, this undertaking isn't easy, especially for those of us who have no means or counterpart to express the subtleties that intersectionality often requires. Additionally, some identities, such as sexual orientation, prove much more difficult to openly discuss, in a culture that still fraught with prejudice and taboo. However, I absolutely believe, that as much as you can incorporate intersectional thinking into your lessons, your clubs, or even private discussions (even in rudimentary form), your students or colleagues will reap the benefit of better understanding themselves and their societal positions, and can therefore work towards a better understanding and strategy of how to break down those barriers, how to approach those systems of oppression for themselves. And that kind of personal growth, multiplied by hundreds, or thousands, is the real means to which Rwanda can continue to progress on its path of development.