Strength of a woman! This seems to have become the slogan of many women rights activists and largely for good reasons, but in the process misinterpretation of women empowerment as programs that seek to make women rule men and brought about competition among intended collaborators emerged either as a result of poor presentation or misconception.
The results are at times mild in some homes but extreme in others, the misinterpretation of the women empowerment agenda has resulted into unnecessary wrangles in homes, causing divorces and ruining families that are otherwise sought to be strengthened.
But according to rights activists, government bodies, and women themselves, women empowerment has nothing to do with “women power” in the sense that it has been interpreted but rather focuses on bringing to speed a section of the community that had been sidelined for years and then ensuring that complementarity between the men and women of Rwanda is achieved. Complement
Through the achieved complementarity (where man supplements woman and vice versa), each Rwandan is enabled to contribute to national development unhindered by stereotypes or unfriendly laws.
As argued by the Executive Secretary of the National Women’s Council (NAWOCO) Mrs. Jacqueline Kamanzi Masabo during an interview, government policies on women empowerment do not seek to create another imbalanced community where instead of men; women become favored and have more access to resources and opportunities.
The opinion that women empowerment is about building “women power” as interpreted and maybe preached by some is a misinterpretation and a disservice to community efforts towards women empowerment because it yields conflict and destabilizes families.
“The government does not implement women empowerment programs that seek to elevate their status higher than that of their male counterparts but rather wants to strike a balance that emphasizes the need for one to complement the other for that is how our envisioned development can be attained,” she remarked.
The origin of the women empowerment movement according to Kamanzi was after realization that one group had been left behind. It was established that it was important to bring them into the development agenda.
Women in Rwanda contribute over 54% of the population and as she explains, “Under no circumstance could the country attain sustainable development when this segment of the population is not producing to their highest capacity just because of social stereotypes.”
“However, if these efforts misinterpreted or ill-presented as making women rulers over men, then it is a wrong mindset that both men and women who harbor it need to change,” she noted.
Similarly Josephine Irene Uwamariya, the Country Director of the international NGO ActionAid in Rwanda noted that women empowerment programs are implemented in close partnership and consultation with men and it cannot be done otherwise. This is so to ensure that they are all in agreement towards a particular program.
Uwamariya emphasized that alongside women empowerment programs that aimed at solving peculiar female challenges, other projects that target whole communities are rolled out to ensure that all people come up on the same pace and can thus contribute without hindrance to national development activities.
“We cannot implement programs that in the end will bring another imbalance for the human community to again go on the search for ways to empower the other segment that would have been left behind. The target of women empowerment projects is to solve a problem and then grow the society together as a whole towards a better future where everyone enjoys their basic human rights and can break the cycle of poverty,” Uwamariya shared.
For instance when the government of Rwanda in the years that followed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi instated a policy that lowered cutoff points for girls entering college compared to their male counterparts, the target was to increase their numbers in institutions of higher learning and ensure that they too, just like boys, gained access to college education.
When the imbalance in numbers was sorted and a fair competitiveness between boys and girls at lower levels of education established through other education policies and programs, admission grades were then brought back to the same, but ever since girls have continued to compete healthily for provided slots in institutions of higher learning with boys.
Using this example, it is possible to illustrate that the intention of the policy was never to favor girls over boys in their respective academic pursuits but to ensure that both had a leveled ground for fair competition to college admission.
According to the Executive Secretary of the NAWOCO which is charged with coordinating all women empowerment activities with support from the line ministry and partners, through various programs they have ensured that women are reminded of their natural roles in community, something that is feared by many to be lost through the empowerment efforts.
For instance, NAWOCO is implementing a boot camp program dubbed “
ba mutima w’urugo” during which women are sensitized on several issues including their special roles in community and the importance that these roles have towards the development of the country.
Through such camps, it is explained to the Rwandan women that empowerment programs do not seek to rob them of their god-given talents as mothers of the human race.
For instance as Kamanzi shared, women in traditional Rwandan society were consider the heart of homes “ba mutima w’urugo” and as so the supreme advisors to their families and communities.
The camps therefore are part of NAWOCO’s efforts to empower women to take responsibility for their former positions in homes and use them to advance their family’s welfare and consequently national development.
In her viewpoint, Mrs. Kamanzi is in agreement with some women concerning Rwanda’s gender balancing agenda.
Eliane Umuhoza is a female journalist and is popular for her shows broadcast on Rwanda National TV station on topics of gender balance and women empowerment.
Speaking about the government approach to women empowerment in relation to the creation of “women rule” over men in community, Umuhoza clarifies;
“I think that the government has done a tremendous job of empowering women and a lot has been achieved in a very short time. However to so many unprepared minds, men and women alike, the efforts have been misinterpreted and the fault is not the government’s but rather people’s.”
For Umuhoza men who are against the empowerment of women use this angle as a means of discrediting the efforts, arguing that all they intends to achieve is make men “subjects of women”.
“This is so wrong and so bad,” she argues.
However, the misinterpretation was not created by men, though they are agents of exacerbating it.
Umuhoza explained that many women, especially in rural communities saw an opportunity in the empowerment agenda to triumph over their husbands and in the process misused the programs of empowering them as tools to serve their selfish interests.
But just like Mrs. Kamanzi, Umuhoza believes there are special women roles in the Rwandan community that cannot be taken over by men and vise versa hence the need for people to recall these, reclaim them and take responsibility for them, all to the profit of advancing the Rwandan community.
“For those who may recall, in the old days it was hard for any man to decide on matters without consulting with the wife because given our nature, women are endowed with natural traits that enable them to sense trouble or fortune even before it happens,” she shared.
This and other women roles in community should not be eroded away by the ill-feeling of women rule, Umuhoza warned.
It is evident that there has been a misinterpretation of the empowerment agenda as a way of government making women stronger than men by some people largely for selfish reasons.
However this raises need for efforts to ensure that the misconception is rectified, lest a good cause end up yielding harm instead of good in some cases.
Largely however, Rwanda’s women empowerment efforts have paid off positively, ensuring an equal share of opportunities between men and women, and enabling Rwandans all together to contribute towards the country’s development agenda.