Gender Balance vs Gender Equality for Rwanda?

I love the internet. There is always something pushing us to have conversations we are skipping or ignoring. But the right time always comes. In 2017, I hosted a panel on women embracing power. One of the panelists, a brilliant woman who has invested her time into providing free pads to Rwandans girls and women, shared her experience when she went to ask for support  from the 64% women in parliament. They all told her that they had pertinent issues to worry about than free pads.

This is in a country like Rwanda where many women cannot afford sanitary pads, a country where girls in rural areas are reported to miss school during menstruation. One wonders which other issue is more pertinent than this really? Whenever African leaders are hit with the daily issues women go through, they bring up the amazing development they are working towards. This is why I often say this: our leaders collectively don’t care about the African girl child. If they did, sexual education would be a priority since teen pregnancies have doubled, accessibility to free sanitary pads would also be a priority, as well as contraceptives.

Last week,  a Twitter trending conversation was about a young creative Rwandan woman’s shared nudes. They were artsy to be honest, very beautiful. The women in power decided it was the right time to share ableist and rape apologists comments. One of the women, Ingabire, a self-proclaimed feminist and gender promoter made a comment I have no doubt my mother would make. She said: “ You decide to go naked then would blame rapists for being raped”.

I am aware we have had conversations about rape in the Rwandan context many times. I was even invited on Rwanda national TV when some Rwandan women went anonymous and exposed their rapists. I remember emphasizing that you don’t tell victims how to deal with their pain, but mostly in a society bound by the culture of silence, we should welcome with arms open every way of breaking silence.

That Twitter conversation moved from nudes to everyone finally agreeing 64% of women in parliament doesn’t mean gender equality.

But feminists knew that gender balance is not gender equality and we have told you more than once: every woman in position of power doesn’t mean women liberation.

Of course, gender balance is needed and no one wants to walk into a room filled with only men; but a room full of women under patriarchy never means women centered. That’s why we must abolish this patriarchal system. I have theorized on how women economic empowerment doesn’t mean gender equity. In most countries, you cannot afford to have women who aren’t participating in the economy hence the need to educate them and capitalize from having women part of the labor. Patriarchy has also invested in their gender equality propaganda. The system loves displaying women who are accessing spaces as our liberation but that woman does nothing to liberate our chains other than being a foot soldier of the patriarchy.

It’s sad when the very same system that gives power to these women deemed respectable for conforming to patriarchal rules and expectations, then comes to laugh at us when the women they put in positions of power do what they are expected to do: Gatekeepers of the Patriarchy.  

I watched conversations on Twitter, highlighting their disappointment in women with power who uphold the patriarchy and wondered what else they expected.

Patriarchy never elevates women invested in challenging the status quo and abolishing the system.

On the other hand, the disconnect between younger and older African feminists is so visible. There is a growing younger feminist organizing. These women are angry, loud, have rejected respectability politics and are filled with a burning passion. They are ready to dismantle, challenge and fight. Age politics have been the wall sustaining that disconnect. The older generation of African feminists needs to guide the younger generation but mostly channel sisterhood and liberate each other together. May we abolish that wall sooner enough.

I personally still want to see women in positions of power. The wealth of the world doesn’t belong to one gender. Gender balance is needed. I want for girls to see power as something they can access. But most importantly, I want to be free and liberated. Individual freedoms and access to power sustains neoliberalism and classism so sisters let’s abolish this patriarchal system knowing not every representation means our liberation.

Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.

judicaelleirakoze
judicaelleirakoze

Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.

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