Launch of Gender and Learning in Rwanda
Monday, 31 January 2022
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura
In the language of the Gadigal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we gather, I pay my respects to Elders, past, present and emerging.
Most of us in the room today will remember the almost unimaginable Rwanda genocide of 1994.
One of the visceral memories I have from the news reports of those 100 days was of a football team travelling on a bus to a game. The bus was stopped and boarded by Hutu Militia who then proceeded to slash at the feet and legs of the members of team. If you don’t have feet or legs, you can’t play football. It took away these young men’s futures. It condemned them to a life of physical and emotional disability.
In the rebuilding which followed one can find many stories of how football was a huge impetus to change. That is important.
In those 100 days, many thousands of women and girls were raped and tortured. There are no reliable estimates, but some suggest numbers of up to half a million. There was no media coverage of specific incidents, such as with the young footballers, nor, in reality, could there be. These atrocities stripped women and girls of the essence of their humanity. They, too, were condemned to a life of physical and emotional disability.
All this happened in a developing country where medical and other essential amenities were limited, the country was ravaged by HIV and, as is almost invariably the case in developing countries, women were an underclass.
The first question that one thinks of after a genocide of such swift and massive proportions is: ‘how does a country ever recover’. In the context of that country, the next question would have to be: Where and how were women to feature in this recovering society? I say this had to the second question because 70 percent of Rwanda’s post-genocide population was female. Most of those killed were men and many perpetrators had fled the country.
For a decade until 2012, 12,000 gacaca courts - referring to the ‘soft grass’ where, traditionally, elders in a community would sit down to resolve an issue - met once a week in villages across the country, often outdoors in a marketplace or under a tree, hearing and trying more than 1.2 million cases from the genocide. The sheer number of legal cases is a measure of the extent of the atrocities that occurred in that short period of time.
Although the road to recovery since has been long and complex, there has been significant positive and continuing change. As higher education advocate Marie Carine Biggis informs us: ‘Almost by default, Rwanda went from being a traditional society to having women take over leadership roles.’
However, change, particularly cultural change, does not become embedded in a society without institutional, policy and educational change.
At the institutional level in post-genocide Rwanda, change has been underpinned by a constitutional provision which mandates 30% of seats are to be held by women. Representation in government organisations is also mandated. Women now hold 67% of seats in the national Parliament. This has made a difference. For example: gender-based violence protections have been enacted and inheritance laws, which had previously excluded women, have been passed. As many as 15,000 village councils are made up of women. 50% of judges are women.
Dr Yerbury, in her chapter, points out that: ‘The real challenge in institutional change is [not only] the passing of new laws … it is in the implementation of policies needed to support the new legislation and, in the awareness raising, education and practical assistance which helps people to adjust and change their behaviour.’ Policy can be a chameleon. But my reference is to good policy. Good policy must be underpinned by principle and must be made by policy makers educated in principle.
That brings me to the important topic of female education. Without education, women will neither have the tools for leadership nor will they engender respect as leaders. There are exceptions to both those statements, but exceptions cannot be the rule by which a society changes nor how it is governed.
In 2009, Professor Shirley Randell and Dr Hilary Yerbury established the Centre for Gender, Culture and Developmentat the Kigali Institute of Education, Rwanda - a courageous endeavour at many levels. But what is leadership without courage? The Centre’s Masters Programme set about the scholarly teaching of the principles which underpin gender equality and women’s empowerment and advancement, doing so in a post-conflict context, in a still developing, under-resourced country. A knowledge or understanding of the principles of gender is fundamental to policy formulation which ensures that no-one is excluded from societal participation. That observation cannot be confined to developing countries. I suggest it is a universal proposition.
I met Professor Shirley Randell in 2019. Meeting Professor Shirley Randell is a significant event in anyone’s life. For me, it has given rise to a friendship and now an especial honour in being asked to launch Gender and Learning in Rwanda.
I have read some very good books and some very average books. Gender and Learning in Rwanda is neither. Rather, it is a very important book - a particularly good, important book.
Gender and Learning in Rwanda provides an honest appraisal of the cultural and logistical challenges encountered in establishing the Centre: initially, resources were almost non-existent. A further challenge was that the postgraduate student cohort was a mature cohort, many already in significant positions of employments, who were balancing study with the competing demands of work, home, family and social lives. For many, they were studying in a language that was not the language of their earlier education.
Research problems exist in everyday lives, they are not found in academic exercises, theories or conceptualisation. This is captured well in the Jaya Dantas chapter: Teaching Gender Research Methods for Leadership, which unfolds the importance of feminist pedagogy based on lived experience. And I would suggest that every policy maker in education should read the chapter: The Importance of Education Girls and Women in Sciences which, as is explained, is both a human right and a development tool.
Let me lead closer to the moment of formally launching Gender and Learning in Rwanda: The academic chapters of the book are individually scholarly pieces of writing. They provide insights as to why United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was recently provoked to say: “The time has come for transformative action on education.” The writings in this book demonstrate the many ways in which this can and should be done.
Finally, let me shine light on the stories of some of the graduates which forms the second part of this publication and so beautifully exposes its raison d’être. Each personal reflection contains an insight into the life and motivation of the individual. I will leave you with two statements from these reflections, but the reflection of every graduate is to be savoured:
Aline Mukantabana ‘want[s] to be a role model for women and women’s lives in Africa.’ Simon Nsabiyeze, whose wife, daughter and mother ‘constitute [his] source of energy and resilience’ said, that looking forward, ‘above all, I aspire to be more, not to have more!’
It is now my great pleasure to launch Gender and Learning in Rwanda.
 Chapter: Thinking and Acting: Towards a Gendered Scholarship p 49
 Now called the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Rwanda
 Edited by Professor Shirley Randell and Dr Hilary Yerbury and with contributing chapters by other world-leading gender academics
 Chapter: Thinking and Acting: Towards a Gendered Scholarship by Hilary Yerbury, in particular
 Chapter: Teaching Transitional Justice: Towards a Political and Personal Transformative Journey by Gertrude Fester-Wicomb
 Chapter: Teaching Gender Research Methods for Leadership
 November 2021: https://www.un.org/sg/en/node/260591