On 8th March every year, the world celebrates the ‘International Women’s Day’. It is celebrated differently in different parts of the world, and in Rwanda the day is cherished as an important moment to reflect on the progress that has been made regarding women’s empowerment and to invest more efforts in making gender equality everyone’s concern.
Rwandan Woman was traditionally held under cultural limitations but those limitations replaced neither the particular value a mother deserves nor the praise and honor children owe her. I can remember ‘Uri Mwiza Mama’ (translated as ‘Mother, You are so Beautiful’), the popular poem every Rwandan child would memorize and recite in public at primary 3. The poem reflects the typical valuable image of a woman in Rwandan society.
Stereotypically, a traditional Rwandan woman was described with inferiority, passivity, submissiveness, shyness, quietness, low voice, humbleness, slowness, naivety, etc… Rwandan woman couldn’t speak in public gathering, couldn’t join army, couldn’t construct a house, couldn’t own land, couldn’t inherit a property, couldn’t decide on her marriage, and couldn’t hold leadership position; except the queen mother who would help the king ruling the country. A woman was to take care of households and would depend on her husband who contrary served as the king of the family. Unmarried women were seen as vulnerable and in the case of pregnancy out of wedlock, a girl would be banished to an island or in forests where she would eventually die of hunger or be eaten by wild animals.
Despite facing cultural limitations, some of the Rwandan women did something big which they will always be recognized for. They are undoubtedly public figures that inspire today’s young women to venture into initiatives that made Rwanda to stand out as a good place to be a woman.
Robwa: In his book “Le Patriotisme Jusqu’au Sang’’, Muzungu Bernardin considers Robwa Nyiramateke as a pride and respect to women in the history of Rwanda and refers to her as the most heroic woman Rwanda has had. Robwa was a daughter of King Nsoro I Samukondo and a sister of King Ruganzu I Bwimba. She accepted to leave aside the honor of being the queen of Gisaka and sacrificed herself to the survival of Rwanda, her home country. Robwa had been impregnated by King Kimenyi of Gisaka, and the plan was that she would give birth to the son who would invade Rwanda and annex it to Gisaka. Robwa had accepted to get married to King Kimenyi with conviction that she would die for her country.
Nyirarucyaba: Known in the history of ‘ibimanuka’ (the Divine Kings) discussed in ‘Inganji Kalinga’ by Mgr Alexis Kagame, Nyirarucyaba is believed to have brought cows for the first time in Rwanda on the reign of the first king of Rwanda Gihanga Ngomijana.
Nyirarumaga Nyiraruganzu. Being the foster Queen Mother of King Ruganzu II Ndoli, Nyirarumaga is known as the mother of Rwandan dynastic Poetry that played an important role in perpetuating the history of Rwandan Monarchy.
Nyirayuhi Nyiratunga: Being the queen mother of King Yuhi Gahindiro, Nyiratunga ruled the country while her son Gahindiro was still a small kid. She fought against the opposition group that wanted to forcibly take the throne and protected it until Gahindiro was mature enough to rule the country himself.
Ndabaga: Ndabaga is known as the first woman who joined the kingdom's traditional military camp. Her father had spent many years at the military camp because he hadn't any son to replace him so that he could be allowed to go home. Ndabaga trained herself secretly and went to replace her father at the camp pretending she was a man. Later, it was revealed that she was a woman and the king rewarded her for her outstanding performance.
Agathe Uwiringiyimana: Declared one of the greatest Heroes of Rwanda in 1995, Uwiringiyimana was Rwanda's first female Prime Minister from 18 July 1993 until her assassination on 7 April 1994. She fearlessly fought against discriminating politics until she was murdered.
The Rwanda’s post-genocide regime pledged that girls' education would be encouraged and that women would be appointed to high ranking leadership roles. The constitution passed in 2003 decreed that 30 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women. In the 2003 election, 48 percent of parliamentary seats went to women, 56 percent in 2008, and 64 percent in 2013 election. Currently, Rwanda has recorded the highest female representation in political decision making areas including; Parliament (64%), Senate (38%),judiciary (43%), and Cabinet (40%) among others. Women’s contributions to the nation rebuilding have won them the confidence of Rwandan men and society in general. But it is still suspected that the power women have in public probably doesn't extend into their own homes.
Rwandan female police and army officers are currently serving in different UN and AU peacekeeping missions and their performance is rated outstanding. Rwandan women gained self-reliance and equality. Girls of today are no longer ‘girls of the home’ but they are free to do anything they want to; including formerly male-dominated fields. Rwandan women nowadays win respectful trophies in sport, music, social and political activism etc…
Men are sensitized against gender stereotypes and equipped with a good understanding of manhood and fatherhood in a positive way.
Cover photo: newtimes.co.rw