Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Gender equality in Rwanda

'The healing hands that saved a nation.'

So ran the headline of an article in the Telegraph last Saturday. Rwanda has become the first country in the world whose women MPs outnumber men.

What an amazing achievement, especially in a culture where women are used to being in the background. Part of the secret of this progress has been what one might call positive discrimination, ensuring that at least 30 per cent of all administrative and government posts nationwide must go to women. How else would things change?

Sometimes I almost despair, when I think how difficult the path of progress is for some women, whether in a church or wider context. A few steps forward, followed by a backlash - and several steps back. But in Rwanda, women are seen as key to the healing which is needed since the genocide. 'Women are better able to nurture reconciliation.' I'm not one for stereotypes, but I think this is probably true.

I believe it's important as women leaders to look beyond our own context to see the plight of women in the developing world. But I was caught by surprise when I read what these women may have to say to us. Inspiring, or what?

'Now the young girls see all these women in power and realise they can do anything. To succeed is no longer about physical force, it is about the force of your mind. We know we are capable of anything that men can do.'

And to the challenge that this might threaten men? 'We're not taking over, we're just coming along to join them.'

I long for the day when we are saying that about women bishops, or women leading larger churches! But in the meantime, I'm rejoicing at this news, and praying that these women leaders in Rwanda may teach the world a thing or two.

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