Rwanda's women make strides towards equality 20 years after the genocide

Alexandra Topping – Guardian – Friday, 11 Apr 2014 (originally published 07 Apr)

Women of Rwandan parliament
The Rwandan parliament is 64% female, yet some claim the country’s women have ‘a monopoly on poverty’. Image: Washington Post/Getty Images

Striding through Bumbogo village, near Kigali, the Rwandan capital, Josette Uwanziga, 24, cuts a striking figure. Wearing a white dress, black jacket and patent leather sandals, and clutching her mobile phone and keys, she could be on her way to an office in one of the capital’s new skyscrapers, instead of walking past a patchwork of bean and sweet potato fields en route to the village’s tin-roofed administration offices.

The head of customer service is the perfect emblem for a new generation of women the government is pushing hard to promote. Independent, ambitious and self-sufficient, Uwanziga hopes to move quickly up the ranks. “I want to make decisions and be involved in the development of my country,” she says. “Women are much more developed now, they want to be involved in politics. Men have to understand that now we have the right to the things they have.”

Women’s rights in Rwanda – where, 20 years ago, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide that left more than 800,000 Tutsis dead – have progressed hugely. An impressive 64% of parliamentarians are women – the highest proportion of any parliament in the world – gender rights are enshrined in its constitution, and a swath of laws have given women the right to inherit land, share the assets of a marriage and obtain credit. As many girls as boys receive primary and secondary education, maternal mortality is lower and the birth rate is falling . . .

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