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

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

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (center) takes part in a group photo at a conference on the role of women at the nation's parliament in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2010.
Jason Straziuso / AP
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (center) takes part in a group photo at a conference on the role of women at the nation's parliament in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2010.

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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