Those Rwandan women who are employed making "peace baskets" for Macy's — a job that helps them to repair the fissures of the ethnic civil war that saw the deaths of some 800,000 people fourteen years ago? They are part of a wave of women helping to lift Rwanda out of the poverty caused by the Hutu/Tutsi conflict. Not surprisingly, the economic and political contributions of women are the main fuel for Rwanda's current economic revival. According to Washington Post's Anthony Faiola, the genocide of Tutsis by Hutu militias and subsequent retributions left Rwanda with a population that's 60% female. This, along with new laws passed in 1999 that allowed women to inherit property, left the door open for more women to start businesses, even though in Rwanda's more patriarchal society, many women must still ask their husbands for permission before making economic choices. Now, women are running coffee plantations and graining mills, and often, they're out-earning their male counterparts.
Microloan organization Vision Finance, which started a program in the Rwandan town of Masaka three years ago, says that while the majority of borrowers are female, "four out of five defaulters are men." Jeanine Mukandayisenga, one of the businesswomen in Masaka who benefited from microlending, tells the Post: "They say that women care more about the family, but I do not know if that is true...I think it has more to do with the self-control woman show in hard times. We know how to survive when men despair."
But women aren't just thriving as money managers in Rwanda; women hold 48% of seats in the Rwandan parliament, which, according to the WaPo, is the highest percentage in the world. And it's not like Rwanda is an anomaly. The World Bank says that "in India's great economic transformation of the past 15 years, states that have the highest percentage of women in the labor force have grown the fastest as well as had the largest reductions in poverty." One of the most encouraging aspects of female success in Rwanda is that women are being seen differently by the culture as a whole. "Today, woman are in business; before, if a woman had some money, she would have to give it to the man," Rwandan high schooler Eric Muhire says. "They could not compete against a man. But now, they are competing and doing better."
[Image via The MotherHood]Women Rise in Rwanda's Economic Revival [Washington Post]
Woman Opens Heart To Man Who Slaughtered Her Family [CNN]