Rwanda ranks the top five in terms of gender equality. Did the girl who did it agree?

In which countries are men and women the most equal?

This is what the world economy BBS considers in its annual global gender gap report. Countries ranked according to the extent of women’s participation in the economy, their education achievements, health status and political participation.

Iceland ranked first, followed by Norway, Finland, Rwanda and Sweden. Yes, Rwanda is the only African country in the top 10 in the last few years. By comparison, the United States ranks 49th.

Why is Rwanda doing so well in these rankings? And how the issue of gender equality plays out in daily life.

When it comes to the role of men and women, Rwanda is a complex place.

If you want to understand why, a good start is the story of Mireille Umutoni.

In high school, Mireille wanted to be the President of the club, not just the secretary. So why not? After all, she lives in a country where women do not seem to have any barriers, and there is no discrimination.

In parliament, for example, women hold more than half the seats. No country has a better record.

There is only one problem: although Rwanda is arguably one of the world’s most pro-women countries, feminism is not considered a good thing. In fact, it’s a dirty word.

In high school, Mireille found that teachers and students took it for granted that the head of a club should be a boy. When she stood in front of the class, she asked, “why isn’t the head a girl?” They would tell her, “it’s for americans. You want to be American.”

Mireille would stand in front of her high school class and ask why the head of a club can’t be a girl. They would tell her, “this is for americans.”


“American” is too radical, too liberating, too selfish shorthand. The message is clear: you do it for yourself, not for your country. “They would say, ‘you don’t belong in Rwanda,'” Mireille recalled. “‘ you don’t even belong to Africa! ‘”

When she finally become the club’s head – all women’s university debate club – she faced another struggle: she and her team members can succeed in the male-dominated world of university debate the?

We need to look at Rwanda in 1994 before considering mireye’s case.

How did genocide change gender roles?

After 100 days of slaughter in that year, rwandan society was in chaos. The death toll is between 800,000 and 1 million. Many suspected perpetrators were arrested or fled the country. Records show that between 5.5 million and 6 million people in Rwanda were women between 60 and 70 percent of the population after the genocide. Most of these women have never received education or training in their careers. Before the genocide in Rwanda, it was almost unheard of for women to own land or work outside the home.

Genocide has changed all that. The war led to the “shock rossi” moment in Rwanda: like the opening of the world war ii to American women, it opened the workplace to rwandan women.

In the United States, most world war ii opportunities were short-lived. After the war, millions of people came home to announce their previous jobs, while women returned to their families or to work as nurses, teachers or secretaries.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the new generation began to look for equality of opportunity.

The call for equality is not led by thousands of women, but by a man led by President Paul kagame who has led the country since his army stopped genocide. Mr Kagame has decided that Rwanda is so torn down that it cannot be rebuilt by man alone. As a result, the country’s new constitution, adopted in 2003, provides 30 per cent of parliamentary seats for women. The government also promised to encourage girls to accept education. Women will be appointed to lead roles, such as government ministers and police chiefs. Mr Kagame vows not just to catch up with the west, but to jump before it.

The country accepted Mr Kagame’s policy, even exceeding his mandatory minimum. In the 2003 election, 48% of parliamentary seats were women. In the next election – 64%. Today, rwandan politics is considered a model of inclusiveness.

Part of the reason may be a top-down change in the nature of the rwandan leadership. Mr Kagame has a wide range of popular tasks to change – he led the rwandan army to stop genocide. He was a tough military ruler who allowed little dissent or freedom of speech. His words – his vision – are often the orders of the state.

But even if the change is dramatic and rapid, how deep is it? Can a country really change its core culture from the outside?

If the case there is any sign of the women’s movement, so only in the dozens of years of experience in women compared, imagine what looks like a different life, and then after the campaign, this change will happen. Never struggled.

So what happens when a country jumps over social unrest and accepts a pro-woman policy directly? What do you leave behind when you take a positive shortcut through history?

When authorization ends at the front door.

Justin Uvuza wanted to know and decided to find out. The rwandese themselves grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda and returned to Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, a period of time for the kagame government to promote pro-women policies in Rwanda. She wondered how much progress had been made. So when she got her PhD. At Newcastle university, she returned to Rwanda to interview the lives of female politicians – not just their public jobs, but their private lives, as well as their husbands and children. She found a rare exception, no matter how powerful the women were in public, and the power did not extend to their own homes.

“Someone told me how her husband wanted her to make sure his shoes were polished, the water was in the bathroom and his clothes were ironed,” Justine said. And the husband not only wants his shoes to be placed in the morning, but his socks are on top of his shoes. He wanted his wife, a member of parliament, to do it.

Justin has heard countless stories – women still expect to do the housework. Outsourcing the work to a maid or making the husband do more at home is a rare option. Some women, if they don’t live up to these expectations, worry about their husbands being violent, and one woman says she feels so difficult that she thought about suicide.

For some of these women, Justin said, the very real progress they make outside their home may not be liberating, more like fulfilling their responsibilities. As she put it in the study, she was a “good” rwandans, means they are patriotic – through her public service work and career of her country – is also gentle, service for her husband. So, Justin, said a female politician can come out in parliament, advocates strengthening the punishment of sexual violence and subsidies for the poor, but found himself afraid say oppression problem at home.

As a result, Justin will end each interview and ask the female members what the obvious question is for her: will they support the rwandan women’s movement? Not only to change the public role of women, but also to reassess gender relations at all levels? Will these powerful rwandan women be willing to stand under the banner of feminism?

Almost all women say no. Feminism? “It’s not Rwanda,” they told her. “That’s a westerner.”

Justin was not shocked. In fact, she held the same view earlier in her life. She said, due to the gender equality from Rwanda, external very quickly, without psychological construction or women’s freedom of movement, so all the politicians to talk about equality and there will be no cheating, not just for their spouse, but to their country.

She hopes to debate the limits of equality in Rwanda.

The next generation

This is part of the discovery of Mireille Umutoni Sekamana.

She was born in 1995 and was frustrated by the anti-women attitude she faced in high school. When it came to choosing a university, she applied to the acela women’s college, the first women’s university in Rwanda, which was founded in 2010 as a three-year vocational school. Accra is not as well known as some of her peers who have chosen to attend four-year colleges. But Mireille wants to be a girl who can lead the club and ask lots of questions in class without having to worry about being too selfish, too American, too foreign.

When Akilah launched the debate team, Mireille volunteered as captain. It will be the first all-female university debate team in the country’s history. In March 2015, just two weeks after the debate team was formed, Accra’s female debater arrived in the first match. They went on for 45 minutes, first in one of the country’s best schools, the Kigali institute of science and technology or KIST. As Mireille’s teammates saw, they lost for two reasons. One is that they haven’t mastered the rules of debate. The second, more embarrassing reason is that they behave like “girls” – particularly the traditional stereotypes of rwandan women.

“They’re acting like women… …… Shy, quiet, and not too loud, “said Martine Dushime, a member of the KIST opposition group. “[rwandan women] must be modest and speak slowly, which is not in accordance with the debate.

If they are to stay in the game, the Accra team’s women need to find a way to be confident in class. They have to change their minds – “make sure they feel they have enough capacity to accept anyone,” says Accra’s English teacher Samiah Millycent and the debate team coach.

Power structure

Samia later called it “the game of thrones”. Before the weekly debate, each debater will walk up to the front of the room, play a “power pose,” and say something to remind everyone in the room that she is strong. She is a winner. Week after week, they repeat the phrases – “I’m the debater, I’m the winner today” – and I’m willing to believe it’s true.

In a sense, girls are doing what their country is doing: taking new positions, looking in the mirror, declaring themselves new, better, and more successful.

Three months later, after the weekly practice and mock debate, they returned to another national game, full of confidence.

Other participants did not buy. They literally point and laugh and say, “really? They’re back? Samiah said that even when the host introduced the school, he said, “welcome the debater from this school… “And the school’s debaters” – he introduced the Accra team not as a debater, but as “the ladies of Accra”.

“He said it in a sarcastic way,” said samia. “We’re like ‘god, why do people just look at us and think we don’t deserve to stand on the same podium? ‘so I told the girls:’ girls, our mission today is to show these people that we are not here for the occasion, we are here to win trophies with us. ‘”

Martine Dushime, a member of the debate team from the Kigali institute for science and technology, drove home.

Each team was assigned an opponent. The Accra team fought with KIST – the same team that beat it in the previous match. Next, the jury chose the topic of the eight possible themes announced the night before. One of the topics the Accra team wants – women know they are going to wobble – is “the house believes that developing countries should adopt western feminism.”

So when the judges announced that the topic of the team debate was the topic they wanted, the Accra team had little control over their excitement.

For them, the term “western feminism” symbolizes all the ways in which they want to challenge relationships and promote true equality.

That is, until women go out and draw a piece of paper to show what they will argue about. They found they had to fight back.

In order to win the debate, the first ever women must put forward a persuasive case, if women like men choose how to live their own lives, Rwanda is not better.

In other words, to win, the team needs to maintain many traditional gender roles – contrary to what women think.

This is a real catch-22.

Bold moment

The first team to take part in the stage was not Accra, but the KIST team, which sought western feminism in Rwanda. The team only a female Martine Dushime thinks that western feminism does mean that women have to participate in their own movement: “women standing on the position of their own said ‘we need this, rather than hiding behind the government policy.”

Now Mr Aguilar is thinking about how to win. In the few minutes before their teammates were on stage, they went deep into their lives. They began to remember the phrases they had heard over the years, to the women who stood up for themselves: “men are always heads.” “The marriage dispute is the woman’s fault.” The woman seeking attention “is not good for her family.”

The Accra team is bold and confident to speak out why rwandan women should not be too bold or confident. “Copies never learn” became the team’s slogan, summarizing all the concerns about Rwanda’s influence in the west. “Why should we take something that deprives us of originality?” “Mireye said. The crowd roared.

That’s when Mireille said that she had this moment on the stage – looking at the faces of most men, knowing that there were government officials in the audience. She could say that her team’s arguments struck a chord. She had the idea, “uh-oh.”

Is it true that being a “good rwandese” is not compatible with an outspoken rwandan woman? She always felt like an outsider – an intruder – in her own country?

Women won the debate. But they don’t know: did they win the game because they were the new winning debaters? Or are they arguing so confidently about the status quo? Is this important?

“Well, it feels good when you really convince the judge that you’re the winner.” “The debater, Francoise Nyiratunga, said in an interview several months after the victory.

Mireille is in her debate trophy at the akira women’s institute campus.

Finally, Francoise, Mireille and other teams decided not to care how they won. Francoise said, like any powerful debater, they gain confidence from debate, because they are sure they don’t believe in: “say a shoes is not like a shoes, shoes and you convince someone actually is not a shoe!”


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