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Women playing key role in reconstruction

In the midst of worldwide criticism and debate, women of Rwanda have stood up from the shadows of their spouses and families to act as the central pillar to Rwanda s reconstruction.
Nasra Bishumba

Ten years since the genocide, tiny Rwanda still faces the challenge of reconstructing the physical and social structure of the nation. Picking up the pieces from a country that was economically ravaged and socially divided after four years of civil war, followed by the 1994 genocide of nearly a million people, seems like an overwhelming task to most observers.

.Today, Rwandan women are taking on new roles and responsibilities in restoring the social, economic and political fabric of their nation. Despite numerous challenges, the public space for women s participation has actually expanded in the past ten years.

A report by the Catholic Church Worldwide says that fifty-seven percent of the adult working population aged 20 to 44 is female, and women produce up to 70 per cent of the country s agricultural output.

In the social realm, the war and genocide had a disproportionately strong impact on women, as rape and genocide survivors, widows, heads of households, and caretakers of orphans.

At the local level, women are creating or re-constituting self-help groups, or cooperatives, to assist survivors, widows or returned refugees, or simply to meet the everyday needs of providing for their families. There are over one hundred of these groups in each commune, and they may be informal or formally registered with the government.

More than thirty-five women's organizations that work for the promotion of women's rights, development or peace have organized themselves into a collective called Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe (Pro-Women All Together).

The Pro-Femmes Triennial Action Plan drafted six years ago states that the organization works for "the structural transformation of Rwandan society by putting into place the political, material, economic and moral conditions favourable for the rehabilitation of social justice and equal opportunity, to build a real and durable peace."

In addition to their programmatic activities in peace and reconstruction, Pro-Femmes also provides its members capacity-building supports and assist them with communication, information and education.

Donatilla Mugorewera, an official in Profemme says that the association has helped women to come together and share ideas of how they can develop themselves.

We make 50 percent of the Rwandan population. In our meetings, we analyse what we can do for our nation not what it can do for us. Our contribution is vital for the reconstruction of this country, she says.

Women's representation has also been increased in other areas of national government. While official representation at the Ministerial level has grown to nine cabinet ministers, women make 30 per cent of the representatives in the national Parliament. (Women are 35 of 80 members of parliament).

The Ministry of Gender says that it is working closely together with Profemme Twese Hamwe to support more women. So far, the association has received funding from International organizations operating in and outside Rwanda.

In Kimironko district of Kigali city, Mukasine Imaculeé, a widow and mother of six children received francs 80,000 from ProFemme Twese Hamwe two years ago and has managed to accumulate three times the amount.

I decided to invest in poultry, where I am able to supply eggs to hotels and at least get some for my children, she explained happily.

Taking this writer around her poultry farm that holds 120 hens, Mukasine explained that she had taken a long time planning and consulting about her project before setting off to apply for a loan from the association.

The association has been very helpful. I have been one of its members for almost 5 years now. And I must admit that it has brought us from far, she explained.

Mukasine says that her project has been able to help her sustain her family and educate her children. The money from my project helps me to educate my children and I have been able to secure them medical insurance from the district hospital, she said.

Mukasine explained that she has managed to pay off the loan, which required repayment in two years. So far, she says, she is helping other women in her district to learn how to set up income generating activities.

For Marie Therese Rwigara, an official of the Profemme Twese Hamwe, this is a project co-rdinator for all the associations that falls under its umbrella.

It is a supporter in judicial, economic, political, material and moral conditions. But the priority is to build their capacity financially and then think of the rest later. There is no way you are going to deliver justice to a person who can t even afford transport fare to court, she said.

Today, Profemme has opened branches in most parts of the country in a move to reach its beneficiaries easily. Pioneered by their First Lady Janet Kagame, Rwandan women hope to beat poverty and educate their children in an effort to protect their families in particular and the nation in general against the deadly Aids virus.

As the government gives them an encouraging pat on the back, the role of women in peace-building and reconciliation is playing a significant role in reconstructing the social and moral tissue of Rwandan society.

As Joanne Wangui, a Kenyan female journalist put it, for the national reconciliation and reconstruction to succeed, programs emphasizing the gender component recognizing women s needs should be put in place to especially pay attention to the new roles of women in Rwanda s society and economy.

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