Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rwandan Feminists Are Doing It Better

Fuck yeah Rwandan feminists! Or whatever they identify themselves as, because it might not be feminists, but they're awesome women doing awesome things!

I've encountered this statistic before and shared it a little, but it really deserves to be repeated as much as possible since we in the US all tend to assume that places like Rwanda are all worse off and less progressive than us in every way.


What would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy – namely women forming the majority of a parliament – is a reality in one country in the world, Rwanda. 
Early reports from the parliamentary elections last Monday indicate that women now hold nearly 64% of the seats. Prior to the genocidal conflict in 1994, the figure was just 18%.

I saw this get passed around some, but you think it would be more well known and more celebrated in feminist circles, with Rwanda being lauded as an example of what a country can be. That is not happening. Instead, Rwanda tends to get lumped in with all of Africa (by white feminists, mostly) as an example of how bad it can be for women. And some areas in Africa are terrible for women, but homogenizing Africa is raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacist because each country in Africa is its own individual place and some are awesome in certain ways. This is not to say that Rwanda is perfect, but, you know, details. Awareness. Know something about countries that aren't dominated by white people.

Even worse, the debate has, in Eurocentric fashion, all too often implied that women's progress in Rwanda is a result of the adoption of western values and that westerners are "helping" local women achieve them. 
But the main reason Rwandan women MPs find themselves in the majority is the country's organised women's movement. Women such as the late feminist champion, Judith Kanakuze, and the organisation she spearheaded, Twese Hamne (Pro-Femmes), ensured through active mobilisation that equality became a top priority in the post-conflict constitution. Female activists made a conscious effort to include women in the rebuilding of the country after the genocide. In other words, what we see is not simply a consequence of the conflict or big-hearted male leaders handing out seats to women. It is a conscious and co-ordinated effort, by women for women.

Judith Kanakuze is my feminist hero. These women in Rwanda are so fucking awesome. They are doing it right. They're kicking ass. We white feminists could learn a thing or several from them. 

Really, it's pretty terrible how the efforts of feminists of color are often ignored, overlooked, downplayed, or even derided by my fellow white feminists. Many of us act as though women from countries that have different cultures from ours need our "help," and our help tends to come in the form of talking over them, telling them what to do, insulting their culture, screwing shit up, and making women from other countries get justifiably pissed at us. (See: White feminists trying to tell Muslim women to stop wearing their head coverings when many of them actually want to.) 

But the best thing we white feminists can do to help women of color is to quietly use our privilege to create a space in which they can shape their own movement, use their own voices, and get recognition for their own strength - of which they have plenty. We should remove obstacles for them and then get out of the way.

And then once they achieve awesomeness, we need to hold up that awesomeness and go HEY EVERYONE LOOK WHAT THEY DID, PAY THE FUCK ATTENTION until others realize that the white way of doing things isn't actually the best way to do anything.

Let's start with this. Women in Rwanda are killin' it. Spread the word.

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