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Since Genocide, Rwanda's Women Have Helped Lead The Recovery

Rwanda is commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the genocide. Since that time, more women have entered politics to help with the recovery. (Getty Images)

The Rwandan genocide left a deep and profound wound. It not only decimated the Rwandan people, it destroyed the nation's political and social structures.

In 1994, after the killing stopped, women made up 70 percent of the population.

They were needed to lead Rwanda's recovery. Rwandan women moved away from traditional roles and joined politics in unprecedented numbers.

Twenty years later, the Rwandan Parliament has more women than anywhere else in the world.

Political participation has meant that women in Rwanda have better educational and economic opportunities, says Oda Gasinzigwa, a member of the cabinet in Rwanda and minister of Gender and Family Promotion. Gasinzigwa spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the terrible time of genocide and how women have found their way since.


Interview Highlights

On women's political power before 1994

There were women in politics, but there were [just] a few. They were trying, they were struggling, but the leadership was not giving them enough opportunity to participate.

When women were in the committee of drafting the new constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, the desire to now start participating started right up at that time because that is when all the laws and the policies were put in the constitution to make sure that women have an opportunity to contribute to the government of their country.

On the ways women in power have changed Rwanda

It is amazing. One is that women now are confident. We have women not only in the Parliament, but also in the cabinet — we have more than 40 percent. In the judiciary, we have more than 50 percent are women.

Women now are able to own land. Girls also can inherit from their parents, but women can also inherit from their families. We have put in all the efforts to make sure that this group of the community is part and parcel of the government of our country.

On gender equity in Rwanda today

We still have a long way to go, but what is important is that there is a will, there is good leadership. But we are now looking at economic empowerment, because women should be stable economically also. ...

We also are focusing on making sure that our girls are being educated so that they can be able to really lead. The gender-based violence is one of the areas we are putting more focus because of the history of genocide. We still have some challenges, but we have put in place programs for the benefit or our community.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In 1994, after the killing had stopped, women made up 70 percent of Rwanda's population. And at that time, they moved away from traditional roles and joined politics in unprecedented numbers. Twenty years later, Rwanda's Parliament has more women than anywhere else in the world. Oda Gasinzigwa is a member of the cabinet in Rwanda, serving as the minister of gender and family promotion. She describes what Rwanda was like for women coming out of the genocide.

ODA GASINZIGWA: It was terrible. Women were raped. We had orphans. But at the same time, there was this hidden happiness of a new Rwanda with a new leadership because already the new leadership has stopped the genocide.

MARTIN: Before 1994, before the genocide, were there any women in politics?

GASINZIGWA: Yeah. There were women in politics, but there were few. They were trying. They were struggling, but the leadership was not giving them enough opportunity to participate. And when women were in the committee of drafting the new constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, the desire to now start participating started right throughout that time because that is when all the laws and the policies were put in the constitution to make sure that women have an opportunity to contribute to the development of their country.

MARTIN: With so many women coming into power after the genocide, how has that changed the country?

GASINZIGWA: It is amazing. One is that women now are confident. We have women, not only in the parliament, but also in the cabinet, we have more than 40 percent. In the judiciary, we have more than 50 percent women. Women now are able to own land. Girls also can inherit from their parents, but women can also inherit from their families. And we have put in all the efforts to make sure that this group of the community is part and parcel of the development of our country.

MARTIN: You've outlined a lot of advances that women in Rwanda have made over the years in these past two decades. Does that mean women share complete equality with men in Rwanda now or are there still lingering forms of some kind of gender discrimination?

GASINZIGWA: Yeah, this is a process, you know. We cannot say that we have achieved, we still have a long way to go, but what is important is that there is a will, there is a good leadership. But we are now looking on economic empowerment because women should be stable economically also. So this is still one of the area where we need to put more efforts because those who are going to support also the family. We also are focusing on making sure that our girls are being educated so that they can be able to really lead. The gender-based violence is also another area where we're putting efforts because of the history of genocide. We still have some challenges, but we have put in place programs for the benefit our community.

MARTIN: Oda Gasinzigwa is Rwanda's Minister of Gender and Family Promotion. Thank you so much for talking with us.

GASINZIGWA: Thank you so much for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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