I grew up around boys; gender differences were not only an apparent issue, they were also emphasized. Socialization of children in my society and in any other patriarchal society ensures that one grows consciously aware of the differences and gender roles between the sexes that society dictates. As I grew older, I started realizing how restrictive and abusive these gender roles and differences can be.
Despite progress in acceptance of equal rights between men and women, and progressive legal protection, women in Rwanda, Africa and the world still face inequality. Women continue to be marginalized and discriminated against simply because of their sex. Women are still excluded from accessing equal opportunities and resources, from education to political participation. Women continue to face violence in their own homes, in their communities, in the workplace, there is really no safe space for women. Women’s choices and decisions about their own bodies and sexuality are often legislated or dictated by customs and practices.
Feminism offers hope to us that equality is possible. There are many schools of thoughts that define feminism. My favourite definition of what a feminist is by Chimamanda:
a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
To me feminism is not just a gender issue, it is a humanity issue, it is common sense. Feminism is about one having choices, freedoms and abilities to do and be the best one can be.
There are numerous voices of misunderstood feminism, and I believe as feminists we need to change that. We need to show that feminism is not an imported concept or idea as some in Africa believe or a man-hating movement as some in the West believe. We also need to make people understand that everyone benefits from feminism, not just women, because we want an equal and just society. With growing conflict around the world based on race, class, etc, we also need to show how feminism is about tolerance.
I have always been a believer in justice, but ever since I realized I am a feminist I have become more aware of myself, my surroundings, and the strength I have in me to fight for equality. Today, as Africans, we need to be part of and contribute to a social movement that raises a global consciousness which sympathizes with the realities of African women as well as their hope for an equal and just society. As Africans, we also need to open our eyes to the changing world and embrace differences whether on the basis of sex or sexual orientation, race, beliefs, and so on. And again, feminism offers that chance.
Olive Uwamariya is a Rwandan woman and feminist. Her passion, personal and career commitment to women’s rights and gender equality are rooted in the lived realities of women and girls in Rwanda and across the world and the need for equality between women and men, girls. Since 2009, she has worked in the development sector focusing on advocacy for gender sensitive policies and prevention and response to violence against women and girls in Rwanda and in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. In her personal space, Olive engages in various forums to advance feminism and women’s rights. Olive holds a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs from the University of Buckingham, UK.