Tuesday, February 2, 2016

When Role Models and Culture Give Permission, by April Z.

April Zachary
Rubengera District
Western Province
One of the most exciting things that I learned while in my pre-service and in-service-training with Peace Corps is how to build a permagarden.  This was a training that was created and taught by Peter Jensen our Peace Corps Permagarden Specialist. A permagarden is an engineered garden which is designed to hold water, air, minerals and nutrients deep in the soil.  The structure of it slows the water (from heavy rains) and helps retain water within the garden structure itself.  The water then seeps deep into soil that has been prepared to receive it and hold it.  One of the many benefits of a permagarden is that it requires a fraction of the watering that a regular garden does.  And it only has to be built once.  Once a permagarden is built it is ready to receive the plantings of seeds and seedlings year-round and for years to come.
I love permagardens.  And I love the idea that permagardening can help families in the villages of Rwanda (and throughout the world) create a means for feeding their families nutritional foods year round, while decreasing the amount of water that is required to be fetched in order for a kitchen garden (small family gardens) to flourish. However, I was not in love with the idea that we were adding yet one more burden of work upon the shoulders of the mothers and women of the village families.

Women Fetching Water
I came to Rwanda in June 2015.  After 10 weeks of intensive training from Peace Corps I came to my community to live. My first 7 weeks living here was spent gathering information through a Community Needs Assessment (CNA). During this time I interviewed staff at the community health center, visited Community Health Workers in their homes and visited families in their homes. From my very first visit with the village families I began to see that the mothers were exhausted.  They would never admit to being tired.  But there is a weariness as well as an acceptance in their eyes. To be tired is not an option. They rise early in the morning, take care of their children and their husbands and enter the fields to cultivate by 7 am.  The youngest of their children they take with them to the fields, carrying them on their backs, even while they take the hoe to soil and dig deep into rich but rocky soil.  They leave the fields somewhere between noon and 2 pm. But their work is not done.  There is still water to fetch, food to find and meals to cook, as well as children to bath and a home to clean. Here in the village, there are no faucets conveniently bringing water to their homes.  Here water is fetched in 5 gallon jericans.  Water weights 8.33 lbs per gallon.  That means a full jerican of water weighs 41.65 lbs.  Viable water sources are anywhere from a 10 minute to 2 hour walk from the village home.  Mostly it is the mothers and the young women who fetch the water.  They are the quiet pillars of the family.

Once I learned about permagardens I began to wonder how this beautifully efficient and engineered eco-system could be brought to the village family without putting more work upon the shoulders of the village mothers.  And naturally my mind came around to the village fathers…the second and more visible pillar of the village family.    I thought that, just maybe, the permagarden would be a family project that a father would take pride in.

A continual question that I hold in my mind, as I live in my community, is how can
we inspire fathers, within the villages, to want to be more of a part of the inter-workings of their families’ daily care.  I am watching and observing. I believe that when father and mother join hands in the daily care of their families, when they become equal pillars in the structure of their home, a force is created that is unstoppable. It builds strength, unity of purpose, pride and creativity.  It builds a working, efficient team that can go on to create a means of escape from the cycle of poverty. 

 I was a firefighter for nearly 25 years. I lived and worked with men in a communal atmosphere (the firehouse), day in and day out, for years.  One thing I learned is that men are not opposed to domestic work.  Some of them love to cook, garden and yes even clean!  Most of the men I worked with took pride in cooking (We had to rotate cooking. It was required).  Many times we planted a garden. The men who planted gardens nurtured them like they were their babies.  Whether we like to cook, clean, build or garden is not determined by our gender.  If we enjoy these things but are ashamed to participate in them…then this is a culturally imposed belief!

Modeste and an enthusiastic group
of men building a permagarden
Just recently we had a 3 day Permagarden Training in my community taught by Modeste Nsabimana.  Modeste works with Peace Corps Rwanda.  He has a degree in Agribusiness and Rural Development as well as in Administration and Project Management. He is Rwandan and he is passionate about teaching permagardening at the village level. He is also an incredible role model for the men and boys of Rwanda.  During this 3 day training I learned that many of the men of my community love to garden!  It made my heart glad to see these men’s enthusiasm and willingness to create, to put hands to soil, to prepare and to plant. Perhaps it is the engineered structure of the permagarden that they loved or the thoughtfulness of how the soil is prepared, or perhaps it is the idea that they can actually control and contain the rain water so that these waters are held and saved deep within the soil so that they can continue to provide moisture to the plants, even during the dry season, that made them so enthusiastic about learning this skill. Or perhaps they were given permission to jump in and be enthusiastic about digging in the dirt for a higher cause by Modeste being there as a role model. Because Modeste was up to his elbows in dirt!

The belief that domestic work is beneath men or is women’s work is a learned behavior.  A belief that is inculcated by cultural norms. How do we dissolve old ways in order to clear the path for healthier norms?  Norms where culture supports strong, unified, healthy, creative families that work together for a better future for their families? A family whose mother and father are pillars of strength that bear the weight of caring for their families equally?  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If I were a boy… by Aimee Carlson

Aimee Carlson
Gakenke District
Northern Province
Everywhere in the world, no matter the culture, no matter the country, there are different expectations placed on people based on their gender. In the United States, boys are expected to be strong and emotionless; they should like manly colors like blue or green and they should dream of becoming doctors, engineers, or lawyers. Boys should want to play sports, or at least to watch them on TV with their dad; they should like to catch bugs, frogs, and snakes; they should have toy cars, trucks, and tractors.

Girls on the other hand are expected to be weak, gentle, and quiet. They are allowed to express their emotions, but that can also be held against them. Girls should want to be princesses, who like colors such as pink or purple; they should want to be mothers when they grow up, though being a teacher, hair stylist, or event planner is also acceptable. Girls should have all kinds of dolls, enjoy playing dress up, and want to play games like Pretty Pretty Princess.

Of course, these expectations are fluid and ever changing. The defined lines within which genders are supposed to fit in are a little more blurry these days. More and more women are joining the science field; sometimes, it’s the father that stays at home to care for the kids. It’s becoming more common for boys to also want a doll or to wear something that is a ‘girly’ color; girls also play in the dirt, digging for worms, or dress up like superheroes. However, there are obviously still expectations, and those who challenge gender norms, more often than not, receive some backlash.

Unsurprisingly, such expectations have followed us to our sites here in Rwanda. We have new expectations to follow though, new customs to adhere to, or if we feel comfortable doing so, to challenge. Female and male PCVs adopt different behaviors in the village because of what is acceptable according to Rwandan culture and what roles genders here are expected to fill.

We females don’t leave our houses after dark, and if we happen to be returning home after the sun has gone down, we frequently are given or request an escort. We side-eye any message we get from a Rwandan man after work hours, or hesitate to give out our digits at all. Our knees are always covered, that is if we even feel comfortable showing any part of our legs. At home, we may wear shorts while alone and doing chores, but we always have igitenge (a panel of fabric) on hand to wrap around ourselves for when a visitor inevitably stops by. Some of us put more effort into our appearance than we would in the States; we want to fit into our community and might go the extra mile to always have perfectly styled hair or have a fancier outfit than just jeans and a t-shirt.

If we are invited to go out with co-workers at the end of the work day, we check to make sure there is another female in the group, preferably also unmarried. Since it’s not culturally acceptable for a single woman to be drinking at bars, we are hesitant to drink in public at site, regardless of the fact that we are foreigners. Some of us may feel comfortable enjoying a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in the safety of our own home. However, most of us are careful when disposing the boxes or bottles, taking them to the nearest regional town, including even the bottle caps.

Male PCVs often don’t have to change their behavior quite as drastically. It is acceptable for them to walk around after dark. Many even feel comfortable going out for a beer at a bar or buying a small bottle of gin at a village boutique. They don’t have to be so cautious when a community member asks for their phone number. If they wear a pair of shorts that show off their knees, it’s not as shocking to Rwandans.

However, that’s not to say that they don’t also deal with a change in expectations. Some Rwandans are surprised to learn that male PCVs know how to cook or do their own laundry. They may even get several offers to have an umukozi (somone who cleans, cooks, and does laundry) at their house. Their clothes must be wrinkle-free and look clean. Unless they are of the Protestant Church, it is expected that men drink beer or gin, which is challenging for PCVs who choose not to drink.

As PCVs, we are guests here in Rwanda. Thus, we make changes to our behavior to fit these expectations rather than assuming our communities will alter their customs to accommodate our culture. It is something that we agreed to when we accepted our invitations to serve. Gender roles and expectations are ingrained in society to the point where we may not even notice them and having them challenged can sometimes be upsetting or offensive. Therefore, this is an area where we need to practice extra caution in order to be sensitive to our communities.

However, the second goal of Peace Corps is to share American culture with host countries as a part of cultural exchange. Because of this, and because our own gender roles are ingrained in us, we may choose certain expectations or behaviors to challenge. Some females may where pants rather than a skirt or they may feel comfortable occasionally going to a bar. Men may decline all offers for an umukozi and do their own household chores. It all depends on what is important to us as an individual and what we feel our communities would be responsive to. After all, they have welcomed us into their homes, it’s not our place to disrespect them or expect them to completely change our ways. We have to find the balance between being culturally appropriate and being true to ourselves.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

When Power Dynamics Destroy the Potential of our Boys by April Z

April Zachary
Rubengera Districit
Western Province
“Many more men and boys understand the importance of women’s equality,
and they need to be given permission to let this happen.
Additionally, information given to boys and men on how to promote
gender equality needs to be done in a positive way.
As 0pposed to giving lists of things they “should not do” or 
ways they are “bad,”
information needs to be shared in a way so as
to build up our boys and men, not tear them down.”

Peace Corps Rwanda
A Guide to Gender and Development Activities for All Volunteers

Recently I had the privilege of attending a two day GAD training which was facilitated by Ashley Mills, our Peace Corps Gender Technical Specialist.  I say “facilitated” as opposed to “taught” for a reason.  Ashley did not teach us theory, protocol or even suggested modes of approach to Gender issues within communities. Instead she  lead us, through a series of exercises, into an experiential process where we were able to see how our life experiences, preconceived ideas and cultural biases effect how we approach gender equality.  During one of these exercises I came face to face with childhood experiences that have colored my view of gender based power dynamics through most of my life. And even though I am now clearer about where my perspective comes from, I am still influenced by my experience.

I once had an older brother.  He was five years my senior. His name was Randy, not Randolph…just straight, plain Randy.  I adored him.  When I was about 3 years old, I stood in awe as I watched him climb the big tree that stood in the yard of the cluster of small cottages where we lived. I wanted to do that too and, not too many years later, I would - with his help.  When I was about 5 or 6 years old Randy taught me how to ride a bike. As I clung to the handle bars of that little two wheeler, feet pumping on pedals, he ran along side of me, supporting me, keeping me balanced until I was soaring forward, proud and exhilarated.  He was a good brother.

In the beginning it was mostly just me, my mom and my brother. Looking back now I can see how difficult it must have been for Mom to support 2 children by herself. This was in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  She was married by age 16, had my brother by age 17, had me by age 21 and was divorced by age 25.  But even before divorce she was pretty much raising us on her own. Our father was an absentee father. Our mother carried the load, taking care of us and working long hours at the A&W drive-thru restaurant for 75 cents per hour.

When I was 8 years old and Randy was 13 our mother remarried. Our step father had a “good job” at UC Davis as a Lab Technician.  I didn’t know it at the time but we were about to receive hands-on-experiential-training in power dynamics. Unfortunately, it would take me about 50 years or more to figure out what I had learned.

Before Dad (they are still married over 50 years later so he truly is my Dad) our lives seemed pretty light-hearted.  It was a tradition to sing loudly while taking drives in the car…mostly Doris Day songs and ballads that Mom taught us.  There was lots of chatter about anything and everything.  Same at home.  When Dad came into our lives a shadow passed over us.  I realize now it was because he was young (28 years old, 4 years younger than Mom), grieving and unhappy. A few years prior his previous wife had died of cancer and his 10 month old son had died in his sleep. He could not bear our chatter or our songs.  If he was not happy, how could he allow the chatter of lively children? My mother was relieved to have the daily necessities of life taken care of.  Because the positive change he brought into our lives was financial security, food always available and a roof always over our heads.  Mom could breath.  I know she felt that we were all safe now. She elevated Dad to king of the house. His word was law.

Randy did not take this change so well.  He was 13 years old, just stretching into his independent phase and bam! Suddenly there were a whole set of new rules. No discussion, no easing into things. It seemed that overnight our lives changed.  And at that time Dad was a weekend drinker. When he drank, my mother and my brother took the brunt of his wrath. I saw my brother change from a generous, kind, spontaneous brother into a distant, angry resentful brother. He must have felt powerless.  Anger was vented upon him, his actions and words were repressed, and in turn he became angry toward me.

Randy ran away at age 16.  Eventually he joined a carnival. When he was 18 years old he died in a head-on vehicle accident. I lost him then, but really I lost him the day our mom married our dad.  Randy’s potential to be a strong, vibrant, caring, kind young man was squashed through repression of his innate beautiful self and through anger.  The power dynamics between him, our stepfather and our mother crushed him. And because he died he never had the chance to find his way back to his true self…that bright, beautiful, kind, protective, supportive boy who had the potential to have grown into a man of true strength.

How do we take away the potential from our boys to become men of true strength?  This is a mystery I am still trying to unravel. Where do we take the misstep of teaching boys, through our own behaviors, attitudes and wounds, that power is an external force that is demonstrated through brute strength, repression of voice, “being the king of the house”, being above menial work, or  through being hands-off with our children? 

How do we inspire our boys to find their true strength? The internal strength that comes from profound self-worth, self-knowledge and the desire to make the world a better place for themselves and their families?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Fair Game by Terrance M.

Terrance Mack
Health 7
Rwamagana District, Eastern Province

When I think of the term “Gender Inequality” my mind flashes back to the years of my childhood, watching my mother work from 6’oclock in the morning to 5’oclock at night and coming home to cook. Her spouse, my step father, only worked from 9’oclock to 2’clock. When he came home, he undressed and went to his man cave (the basement) to watch TV or play video games. She worked at an insurance company, and he was a security guard.

It was the same routine every weekday, which in my child-life mind this were there assigned roles. I did not understand why they had these assigned roles, but at early age I was taught the difference between fair and not fair. This was not fair to me.

If it takes two to make a baby, then why in many households there aren’t two raising the baby, or feeding the baby. That’s not fair game.

In high school we had promiscuous boys that everyone knew and promiscuous girls that everyone knew. Those boys were called glorifying terms such as “ladies’ man” or “player”. Those girls were called derogatory terms such as “slut” or “whore”. That’s not fair game.

You can’t spell community without unity. We have to make the game fair to establish that unity.

Instead of the household being a mirror image of a monarchy, it has to be a team sport for it to be fair game. When one has more work load than the other, which hinders development. And not just development in the household or the community, but the world. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Men's Sexuality By Rusty O.

Rusty Ott
Education 6
Nyamesheke District, Western Province                                   

In this blog post, I want to discuss something that doesn't come up often in feminism. Or, rather, it comes up all the time, but never from the man's perspective. And this is puzzling, as it is at the root of so many of the problems that women wish to tackle: men's sexuality.

Several weeks ago, I was at a financial literacy project training, and when we had some extra time, our facilitator included a gender exercise in which we broke off into male and female groups. Each group was asked to list things it liked and disliked about being a part of that gender.

While the women spoke about how they disliked that they can't walk around alone at night, I kept my peace about the other side of the coin. I don't enjoy being the guilty party. The whole situation reminds me of a poli-sci class in college, where we divided into groups of five and were assigned to pretending to be different countries in mock nuclear arms negotiations. Against my will, I was assigned to North Korea (even though I was the only person in the class who was a Russian major). Why the bloody hell did my professor make me one of the bad guys? And why the hell did God make me one of the bad guys?

You see, females have a very legitimate complaint about how much unwanted attention they receive, and beyond unwanted attention, outright sexual harassment and at times even assault. That's not something guys have to deal with. A friend of mine recently posted a great article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html. This article honestly didn't tell me too many things I didn't already know, although it somehow hit home communicating how pretty much every woman has to deal with cat-calls, inappropriate advances, and in all too many cases, actual violence. But what nobody in feminism talks about is: what's it like being on the other side of that coin?

Let's say I am walking home at night, and on the way I see a girl who is hurt and needs medical attention. I happen to have some medical training; can I help her, or will she pepper spray me in the face out of fear? I confess, if I encountered such a scene, I would run away before I helped, for fear of being feared. That's not a dilemma any woman has to deal with. Or, to get away from hypotheticals and enter into the real world, I can think of several times where I have wanted to speak to or help a female in a situation (usually in the bar/party scene) and my aid has been rejected out of mistrust. I do not enjoy it when I am assumed to be a monster.

But the worst part is that this mistrust is not entirely misplaced. I am not perfect. I have surprised myself at times by what I have wanted to do, and have had to pull myself aside and remind myself what is and is not appropriate, and how my actions might affect people. It can be difficult for a man to hold himself back; there is an old country music song called “I Think About You” by Colin Rae that has been helpful for me, where every time the singer sees something not right happening to women, he reminds himself of his 8-year-old daughter. Yes, the song is kitschy, but when dealing with strong and primitive feelings, nothing can be more persuasive than kitsch. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with these strong feelings and urges, it is acting on them that leads to problems, and often people act on those urges in ways that are hurtful to women because they have not been taught how to deal with their desires, are not always aware of what is and is not appropriate, and have not had explained to them the line between flirtation and harassment.

If you admit that most women have to deal with at least inappropriate advances, then it seems reasonable to admit that most men perpetrate, at some point in their lives, inappropriate advances. This article states that girls have to deal with men staring at their breasts from the tender age of 13; the inverse of that is that a lot of men are staring at the breasts of 13-year-olds. No man has to deal with women staring at his genitals when he is barely adolescent, or dealing with advances, but he is, beginning at a young age, part of the gender perpetrating these acts.

Oscar Wilde once said, "If you want to get a man to tell the truth, put a mask on him." Here, I do not have a mask fully fitted on. I give my true name with this post, and many people who read it know me personally. I do not have complete anonymity, it is with great difficulty that I admit my short-comings. I have had moments I am not been proud of; I too have made the line of what is right and wrong blurry. To some women, I have had the good fortune to have an opportunity to apologize and make amends; to others, I was an anonymous stranger, and there was never a chance to apologize. I also know that there have been occasions where alcohol has helped me make bad decisions, as alcohol has a way of doing. But alcohol cannot be your excuse; alcohol does not give one permission, nor does it make it okay. I am thankful that I am at least able to recognize that about myself, that I can admit when I do something wrong, that I can strive to do better. Here I am on the Gender and Development Committee in Peace Corps Rwanda, and I too make mistakes. I like to think that I am aware, that I am conscious, that I am actively working to help promote gender equality and prevent GBV, and that I am working towards making the world a place where both men and women feel safe. So what does that mean for those who are less conscious? How do we help them?

But am I to apologize for having a libido, for finding women to be beautiful, for wanting to (this is terrible of me, I know) have sex with a beautiful woman at some point? Is that desire truly wrong? No, certainly not! In fact, many women are flattered to be found attractive and desirable. The problem is: how do men act on those desires in a moral and just manner, in a way that does no harm to anyone? How does a man show a woman that he finds her desirable in a way that does not degrade her, or make her uncomfortable, or worse, feel unsafe?  In some cases, it's a no-brainer. There are some things men do (and they happen far too often) that even the perpetrators must realize are totally wrong. There are cases of men believing they are entitled to women, and who act out violently when they face rejection. But life is not always so extreme, not always so cut-and-dry. Sometimes there are men who are aroused in informal gatherings and truly don't know an appropriate way to display their attraction to women. The result is either that they keep those feelings bottled up deep down inside, or they display them inappropriately.

Please, do not consider this blog post to be a whine. I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I do not want to complain about my guilt. And I do believe, having just reached my 30th birthday, that I now have a much better idea about how to pursue women without "crossing the line." But when I was 18, or 17, I had much less clear of an idea, and nobody was telling me otherwise.

What I'm suggesting is rarely addressed, but necessary. Teenage boys with big hormones shouldn't be told they are bad for having sexual desires (which is the feeling I sometimes get when I read articles about all the terrible things men have done to women), but should be guided about how to pursue those desires in a moral way, in a way that doesn't harm, objectify, or demean women. And nobody is telling them how to do that. Especially in Rwanda.

Religion complicates these issues. There are many beautiful religions—and here I must state that I, myself, identify as Christian—which teach that sex is reserved for marriage. I do not wish to tell anyone what to believe, and I have friends who abstained until they got married. When I think of those friends, I believe their decision to save sex until after the wedding was beautiful and gave their marriage so much more meaning. But they all decided to abstain when they were already in a serious relationship with someone they knew they were going to marry, and they all married at a pretty young age. Coincidentally, the religions that teach abstinence formulated those teachings at points in history when nearly everyone married at a young age. Society has changed. I recently celebrated my thirtieth birthday, and I have never been married. Is it realistic to ask of me that I should not have had a single sexual thought in my entire life? Speaking only for myself, I find the Bible to be an inadequate guide on this topic. That has not caused me to lose faith, by any means. But on this issue, I have sought guidance beyond the Scriptures; I have had serious discussions with friends I respect, read books and articles by psychologists and other professionals who work with sexuality, and done my best to trust my instincts. Whether or not you believe abstinence to be the right thing to teach, I think that it can be used as an excuse to not talk about sex, and that is unnecessary and failing our boys (and girls). My father is a pastor, and my mother is the daughter of a pastor (and a niece of at least two), yet they talked to me about sex in my early adolescent years. I think they could have said more, but the talks did go much farther than “sex is bad until you are married.” They talked to me about STI’s, birth control and protection, told me their dating stories from their high school years, and about healthy relationships. I remember once when I was about thirteen we were watching a movie in which there was very soft-core sex scene, and their response was to tell me how important, in real life, it is to use a condom. They never really told me that it is ok to have sex out of wedlock; especially when I was younger and in my father’s confirmation class, a few times said things to the contrary. But that did not stop them from having positive and helpful discussions about sexuality.

If our sexual teaching stops with “don’t do it until you have a wife,” we do not give our boys the proper means to mature sexually. If we teach abstinence only, how does one feel empowered to ask questions on how to handle all he is feeling? We can encourage abstinence certainly, but we must give boys the power to ask questions, to explore safely, and to grow into the best men that they can be. We cannot shame our boys (OR girls) into silence; we cannot refuse to teach our boys how to express themselves in a healthy way, and then chastise them when they do not know better. We as society are failing our boys.

To many people, what I just wrote may seem "duh!" To others, it isn't so obvious. Many people, especially here in Rwanda, take their Bible very literally. Abstinence is taught for religious reasons, and because it falls in line with their literal interpretation of the scriptures. And yet a lot of minors are having unprotected sex, with horrendous social implications once the baby is born (not to mention the demographics of being an overpopulated country). Furthermore, too many men I have talked to do not know how to "be a gentleman," as nobody ever talks to them about sex. Let’s start with linguistics. There are some Rwandans I have met who only use the word “fuck” to describe the sex act. Whether we are speaking of 40-year-old priests or 12-year-old schoolboys, they do not ever use the phrases "sleep with," "have sex with," "make love to." They are not bad men, but I find it very off-putting, to say the least, how freely they throw that word around. The sad thing is, at some point they were taught that. Somebody taught them that is the word for the sex act, and nobody gave them softer alternatives. Beyond that, objectifying women has become almost normal; an accepted part of society. Trust me, Rwandan society is complicated and extraordinarily difficult to fully comprehend. I do not want here to demonize everything in their culture or tell them they should be more like America, (there are some men here with very respectful attitudes to women) but the fact is that they have sexual desires which are not in themselves wrong, but lead to a great deal of hurt to the women of this country. I want here to point out that I have worked with some excellent men who are perfect gentlemen, by any culture’s standards. There is an NGO called RWAMREC (Rwandan Men’s Resource Center) which specializes in altering men’s gender attitudes, and supporting positive masculinity. But I have seen enough troubling behavior from rank-and-file Rwandan men (and, to be fair, American, and Russian, and Czech, and Chinese men [I single out these countries because I have lived in them]) that I wish someone had taught them to do better.

So what am I calling for? Something that should not be unrealistic. It would do the world a great deal of good: I do not want to be an assumed monster. I do not want men to have a reputation for only being bad, or dangerous, or scary. I do not ask for women to apologize to me for making me feel guilty, or for not satisfying all men's sexual desires. But I do believe, in an ideal world, men need to have a better idea of how to deal with sexual desires. Too often feminism and campaigns such as HeforShe speak of the damage that's being done, point to what is wrong, but do not point to what is right. Our GAD Committee has had this discussion too. Are we failing our boys? Are our programs too focused on the negative “you should not do this” aspects, and not the positive? How do we teach our boys to express themselves in a healthy and safe way, but to do it by building them up, not tearing them down? You remember all those awkward sex-ed classes you had in the 6th grade? As long as they're already awkward, let's include in them teaching boys what is and is not ok in their romantic endeavors. And let's bring it to Rwanda in our GLOW/BE clubs and camps, and in everyday interactions! Let's tell boys and men it is never ok to assault a woman, that "no" means "no," but let's also go further.

Women, you too play a huge part in this! Tell us what works for you, what you do like, and tell us what you are not ok with, what hurts you! Stop assuming that we already know that when we are 16! Rwandan culture often teaches the female to “act like she is not interested” or to be indifferent, so she does not appear promiscuous… but how is a boy ever supposed to know if she is saying no because society tells her to or if she is saying no because she means it? Stop teaching girls to say something they do not mean! Stop assuming we'll figure it out by the time we're 30! And men! For crying out loud have the humility to listen to women! That's 90% of the problem; we don't listen and are oblivious to the harm we cause.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Interview with Angelique MUKAGATARE by Tara S.

Tara S. 
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.
TS: How do you think men can help more with gender equality?
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.
Secretary National Women's Council Muhanga District