Do women’s deeds pay off?

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Women working in the rice wetland in Southern Province of Rwanda. Photo by Seraphine Habimana
Women working in a rice field in Southern Province of Rwanda. Photo by Seraphine Habimana

By Serephine Habimana

We all are aware of the mystery and bravery of a woman, how she works hard  and protects her family in times of need but I wonder if women really reap what they sow?

As hundreds of events will take place around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), which falls on 8th March 2015, it is an opportunity to celebrate all the achievements and battles of women along with recognising the challenges they face and the hard work that remains to secure equality.

In Ireland, events range from a women’s rugby open day at Middleton RFC, Co Cork, to the “International Mott’s Day Party” at Dublin’s Sugar Club while Accenture’s IWD event will be held in the Convention Centre in Dublin on Friday. The theme of this year’s event is ‘Make It Happen’.

Up to 1,000 delegates, both women and men, are expected to attend what is stated to be the biggest IWD get-together in the country.

Various Diasporas in Ireland will also celebrate and identify their own International Women’s Day theme, based on their local context and interests.

There are among them, Rwandan diasporas where over 100 Rwandans and friends of Rwanda will be gathering in Dublin 9 this Saturday 7th March to celebrate women’s achievements and all the efforts towards rebuilding the Rwandan nation. This comes two decades after the genocide which left 1,000,000 Tutsi dead, and where around 500,000 women were raped, hundreds of thousands of them left widowed and traumatised.

Because most of those killed during the Genocide were men, and many male perpetrators fled to neighbouring nations, with others jailed, some 70 percent of Rwanda’s post-genocide population is female. This means many women have been left playing a double role.

Faced with raising their families alone and sometimes dominated by grief, some have been taken in by organized support groups for widows. These umbrella organisations have helped grieving Rwandan women to form cooperatives as well as providing financial and psychological support.

Many Rwandan widows started earning a living for themselves post-Genocide, even though in the past men typically provided for their families. Women were not allowed to work, they remained at home to do housework. Now they are running businesses and farming, amongst other things.

Efforts to prevent Genocide happening again are helping to break down barriers.  As many girls and boys now receive a primary and secondary education, meaning a new generation of women are taught about the genocide at school. ‘I am a Rwandan’ is taught in each part of the country where women, men and children are helped to understand their common heritage as Rwandans.

One thing is certain, Rwanda has the highest proportion of female representation of any parliament in the world, with 64 percent of parliamentarians being women. This far exceeds the USA, for example, which ranks 83rd with 18 percent. Women in Rwanda have been given the right to inherit land, they share the assets of a marriage, they can obtain credit, they have many of the same rights as men. Women are making decisions in their families, in the government, and they are involved in every aspect of the country, things which never happened in the past.

Women also played key roles in Gacaca (traditional community courts), as part of the truth and reconciliation process after the Genocide. In the Gacaca, perpetrators of relatively “lesser” crimes faced the families of victims, who benefited from the opportunity to have their grief aired. Women served as the national director, as judges, and as key witnesses in Gacaca. By 2012 nearly two million perpetrators had come before these tribunals.

woman-is-making-rice-from-the-maize-in-burera-district-nothern-province-of-rwanda-photo-by-seraphine-habimana.
woman-making-rice-from-the-maize-in-burera-district-nothern-province-of-rwanda-photo-by-seraphine-habimana.

The Association of Rwandan Female Journalists has become a voice for women, raising strategic issues that help empower women and promote gender equality by helping Rwandans change their mindsets on issues related to gender inequality.

Although some recent reports hint at a darker picture behind the success stories; some claim that the country’s women have ‘a monopoly on poverty’ but there is a fall in poverty and agriculture has been a key contributor to poverty reduction in Rwanda. According to UN figures, the number of people living in poverty in Rwanda has fallen from 56.7% in 2006 to 44.9% in 2011; in rural areas the poorest citizens tend to be women, often genocide survivors.

Some reports say domestic violence remains common and widely accepted in Rwanda in what Rwandans called ‘that’s how marriages are built’; while behind closed doors they claim the apparent empowerment of women means little.

Work and no gains

George Monbiot, environmental and political activist, says “if wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

So, if there is an increase of poverty and the poorest are women then we can simply say it is like a vase of flowers in a living room where it is seen by everyone looking and smelling good but it ultimately does nothing?

Especially in most rural areas of Rwanda there are so many poor who cannot eat and most of them are women. Many families, especially in rural areas, are still struggling to put one meal on the table.

Farming is a major livelihood in Rwanda, with 75 per cent of Rwandans depending on subsistence agriculture, in this industry it would seem women work harder than men.

Women’s returns are excessively poor: they grow crops but they are not allowed to reap or ask about their harvest because all the money tends to go into men’s pockets.  In this regard they have to rely on their husbands to cater for their needs. Women spend many hours working in the field, starting at 5am until 4 pm or so.  After this, they go back home and continue doing different domestic activities like getting water, preparing food, cleaning the house and washing-up while men go out to chat and socialise with other men. It is known that men’s duties are to look for firewood; build the houses, cultivate and shield the crops, and this habit has been there for many years.

Even though Rwanda still has some way to go, one can say that Rwanda is currently one of the most stable nations in Africa, it has been on a transformative journey, travelling very far, and many countries come to learn from Rwanda’s rebirth.

women  cultivating in marshland
women cultivating in marshland in Southern province of Rwanda . Photo by Seraphine Habimana

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