Call her The Mother of Rwanda.
When the 1994 genocide killed nearly a 10th of her country’s population, Aloisea Inyumba found herself with an enormous task – arranging homes for the 500,000 orphans left behind. It was a job few people could ever imagine doing.
So Inyumba devised an elaborate countrywide program encouraging widows to adopt the children and even asking them to take in orphans from rival ethnic communities.
“Women went to the orphanages and took children home,” she explained years later.
“(They) have all taken children, regardless of ethnic background. It was the first step in reconciliation.”
Thanks to her program, more than 90 per cent of the orphans were able to find new homes
According to a 2006 UN report, politicians like Inyumba “are among a pioneer generation, challenging traditional gender roles, taking on new responsibility, embracing high profile positions, and advocating for their rights.”
The report said, thanks largely to these female MPs, Rwandan women have won the right to inherit land, while children’s rights have been enshrined by law. Healthcare and education spending are also on the rise.
The country still has a long way to go. AIDS and poverty are rampant, forcing more than 100,000 children to live in child-headed households. Rural females lack many rights. Things are slowly changing though, and women are at the centre of it all.
More than just an inspiration, Rwanda’s politicians serve as a lesson on what can happen when women play a central role in how a country is run.
Despite making up more than half of Canada’s population, women account for only one-fifth of our MPs – that’s fewer than in Ethiopia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In a country that prides itself on social justice, this is a disappointing reality.
It’s no surprise, then, that issues of importance to women and mothers don’t get the attention they deserve. In the past year alone, the government has scrapped the national childcare program and slashed funding to the federal agency in charge of women’s rights.