Rwandan Feminists Dialogue on Women Rights

In November 2006, over 100 feminist activists from Africa and the diaspora convened in Accra, Ghana for The African Feminist Forum to reflect on a collective basis and chart ways to strengthen and grow the feminist movement on the continent.

The Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists, that involved subjects such as, identification as African feminists, individual ethics, institutional ethics, and feminist leadership, was viewed by many as an accountability mechanism for feminism and therefore recommended that it be developed into a tool that women's organisations can use for monitoring their own institutional development as well as peer review with other feminists.

In a dialogue organised by Rwanda Women's Network through its FEMDialogues, members of the Feminist Leadership group, Civil Society Organisations convened to share their perspectives on the feminist charter in the Rwandan context as well as seek for a proposed name for term feminism and feminist, in the local dialect.

At the forum African feminists committed to dismantle patriarchy in all its manifestations in Africa, defend and respect the rights of all women, without qualification, and protect the legacy of African feminist ancestors who made numerous sacrifices, in order to exercise greater autonomy.

Mary Balikungeri, founder of Rwanda Women's Network, noted that while Rwandan women in the old days advocated for the rights of women and paved way for the movement, there was need to remind society about their efforts, hence the translation and dissemination of the charter.

She believes that Rwandan feminists can actively and effectively use the charter as a tool for women's movement, clarify the passion and issues that drive the feminist agenda, as well as bridge for diverse feminist ideologies and collectively reaffirm commitment to dismantle patriarchy in all its manifestations.

"We felt that by documenting those, we will be able to show and affirm why we call ourselves feminists. We need to know that gender equality emerged out of feminism, but with time we have toned down the agenda so let's not lose the site of our core business in reaffirming women's rights, justice, patriarchal and addressing these issues in the charter and that's what this country stands for," she said.

For Donatha Gihana, a women empowerment activist, it is a political role to end patriarchy and that there is need to work on our individual ethics but also the institutions but we need to understand or rally for feminist leadership.

"Our identity as African feminists, our interest is seeing that an African woman advances, we are diverse but have a common feminist identity," she said.

Dominique Alonga Uwase, founder Imagine We Rwanda, and feminist suggested that while searching for the appropriate name, Rwandan feminists ought to be inspired from the original naming, where the term feminists had its core word as'woman.'

"We need to think about the generation that is going to be using the word, and so we need to involve the youth because those are the ones that are most likely to use the words themselves. The feminist movement is transformative so it has to center the woman, because she was the center of the movement," she said.

Fidel Rutayisire, the executive director of RWAMREC noted that feminism is more than just the name but the practicability of the movement, hence should be derived from the objectives of feminism.

"Feminism is not women against men but rather it involves about dismantling patriarchy, privileges and power that women suffered with for a long time, so I identify myself as a feminist ally because patriarchy affects both men and women. Oppression was made by men to the women and as a man I have role to play in holding our men accountable," he said.

He added that all the principles in the charterare not new to the Rwandan context including respecting women's rights, since it is part of the national constitution and laws.

"These principles, however men need to listen to women because they are still oppressed by our power and we need to hold them accountable."

Olive Uwamariya, another feminist who also participated said there was need to emphasise and implement the phrase "Our feminist identity is not qualified with 'Ifs', 'Buts', or 'Howevers'. We are Feminists. Full stop."

"As feminists, whenever we add the 'buts' we are denying women their rights. There is a lot of power and structures, like economy, power, liberalism that we need to look at and not just women and men. This is where radical feminism comes in, it is not a war between men and women, we are just not satisfied with having equality only, and we want to see issues being resolved," she said.

Josephine Uwamariya, the country director of ActionAid, called for raising awareness and educating the masses about the need for them to join the movement as well as address their misconceptions about feminism.

We need to raise awarenes because if we don't put energy into what you are advocating for, it will suffer resistance. We should also be frank and open where needed, even if the constitution advocates for inclusion and participation, and we have to challenge each other where need be, but we cannot do it alone which is why we need male feminists who will challenge their counterparts, because we advocate partly because we are victims and that should not remain that way," she said.

Also the need for intergenerational dialogues which is taking shape in the communities for mothers to contextualize what they are saying to their daughters and name identity.

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