"If you're thinking about democracy, it's all about participation; it's part of our vision. It was the whole essence of our struggle: how do we create an opportunity for the disadvantaged? That was the message. How can we give a woman a voice?"
Thus Gender and Family Promotion Minister, Aloisea Inyumba, who succumbed to cancer last week at the age of 50, in an interview in 2011. It was certainly part of Inyumba's vision, and she dedicated her life to put it in practice.
"What a great loss in the passing away of Aloysia Inyumba for RPF, NATION and ALL of US at a personal level!" President Kagame wrote on his Facebook page. "Among the best of RPF and NATIONAL Leaders, Aloysia Inyumba will be greatly missed and remembered among others, for her Liberation and Gender credentials/efforts. May her Soul Rest in Peace."
Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi on Twitter was also full of praise: "A.Inyumba has been among pioneers in building foundations of unity and reconciliation among Rwandans after 1994 genocide," he wrote, adding in a second Tweet: "Rwanda has lost a great woman A.Inyumba with special love of the country and its people."
"Brave Aloisea, may your soul remain in peace," was the simple yet heartfelt message tweeted by Rose Mukantabana, speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.
And Aloisea Inyumba was certainly brave, especially in her role as a trailblazer for unity and reconciliation in the country. In 1994, for instance, shortly after her appointment as Minister of Gender and Social Affairs, she made the courageous but controversial decision to appoint as her deputy a lawyer whose husband had been imprisoned for acts of Genocide. Faced with public outrage, she remained steadfast and said the woman should be judged on her own capacities, not the crimes of her husband.
"It's not activism; we are not fighting with the men. It's part of our constitutional right, it's no longer a favor."
It was typical of her vision on the future of the country, which she would later logically follow through in her capacity as the head of the Unity and Reconciliation Commission. "We are saying to a Hutu woman or a Tutsi family, 'Your needs are the same.' Together, we can put up a house, build a new country, and ensure that nothing like the genocide happens ever again," she explained in an interview in 2001.
In her work for the equality of women, Inyumba followed the same principles: that it was not a struggle of 'us against them,' but a question of looking at what is best for the development of the country. "The women of this country are 52% of the population. It's just good economics. How do we tap into the population through education, through economic empowerment, and political opportunities for this part of our population?" she said. "There is a general appreciation that the women of Rwanda are key partners in nation building. That's the message that I will give you. It's not activism; we are not fighting with the men. It's part of our constitutional right, it's no longer a favor. The constitution in Rwanda is very clear that if you're fighting for the fundamental principles of our country, it's about giving equal participation to men and women, boys and girls."
Aloisea Inyumba was born on January 1, 1962 in Uganda, where her mother had fled after her husband (Inymba's father) was killed in the massacres of Tutsis in the early 60s. She grew up in refugee camps, yet she managed to obtain a degree from Makerere University. Shortly afterwards, she joined the RPF, where she was first involved in a peace education program in schools, and later took charge of the movement's financial arm, where she was responsible for fundraising.
Upon returning to Rwanda, Inyumba served as the first Minister of Gender and Social Affairs from 1994 to 1999. As Minister at the time, she was part of the leadership team that faced the challenges resulting from the Genocide. For her ministry, this included organizing the adoption of the large number of orphans and the establishment of the national women's network to adjudicate family and property issues resulting from the Genocide.
From 1999 to 2001, Inyumba served as executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC). Inyumba's beliefs were that women are by nature peace makers and should use their abilities to lead peace and reconciliation initiatives in the communities and spearhead efforts at national unity.
From 2004, Inyumba served as a Senator. In that capacity, she was part of two committees: the Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security Committee and the Political Affairs and Good Governance Committee. While in Parliament, she was an active member of the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum.
She had been Minister for Gender and Family Promotion since May 2011.
Earlier this year, Inyumba was named laureate of the Courage Award from the organization Women Have Wings. She was passionate about women's involvement in politics and leadership and took an active role in representing women's voices to local government throughout Rwanda. She had been involved with women at the grassroots, encouraging them to participate actively in the decision making processes in their communities and the nation and exhorting them to rise up and use their gifts as leaders.
Inyumba had been actively involved in the liberation and rebuilding of Rwanda and was an active member of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) which put an end to the genocide in Rwanda. She was passionate about the unity and development of Rwanda as a nation.
She held an Honors Degree in Social Work and Social Administration from Makerere University Kampala, and an honorary doctorate from La Roche College in the United States, plus a Masters of International Relations from the Irish American University.
She also served as a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace and was a member of the African Women Advisory Committee.
She was married and leaves behind two children.
Most of the quotes from Aloisea Inyumba were taken from the article 'An Interview with Minister Aloisea Inyumba, CFO of the Revolution,' by Michael Fairbanks. (2011)