Two Decades After Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Have Made the Nation Thrive


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This article was originally published by The Daily Beast.

Rwanda has the highest percentage of women appointed to government in the world. Women account for 64 percent of its parliament. (In comparison, America ranks 83rd with 18 percent.)

This is the same country that 20 years ago was in the throes of a genocide that consumed its population at a speed unparalleled in modern history. In 1994, Rwanda experienced 100 days of bloodshed that left some 800,000 people dead.

In the aftermath, the country was shattered. As the liberating rebel army moved in, it pushed the genocidal militias, along with hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees, into neighboring countries. While the world focused on the refugees, the Rwandans who remained in their own country were left to fend for themselves in a decimated nation. The population that stayed behind in the ruins was about 70 percent female.

“It was women really simply saying, ‘I’ve been a housewife and now instead of taking care of a house I need to build a house, so someone show me how to make bricks,’” says Swanee Hunt, founder and chair of the Institute for Inclusive Security. Hunt, who has been working in Rwanda since 2000, remembers an early meeting she had with President Paul Kagame. She asked him if there was a difference in how men and women responded in the aftermath? “Women stepped out and rolled up their sleeves when men were destroyed emotionally and psychologically,” he told her.

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