African Feminists Are Reshaping Rwanda—So Why Are They So Under The Radar?

by Marissa Dubecky

You might not know this, but women have been making some pretty badass progress in Africa over the past few decades. Since 2008 females have held at least 50% of Rwanda’s parliamentary seats, Liberia’s current head of state is a woman, and two years ago Senegal elected its first female prime minister.The most successful social movement in Africa’s recent history has been the women’s movement, thanks directly to the incredible efforts for ladies, by ladies. 

The unfortunate news is that Westerners are not championing the efforts of these women. The prevalence of women in political positions in Rwanda is often only analyzed in its connection to the 1994 genocide, which killed an estimated 800,000 individuals, the majority of that number being men. Not to mention, there is the all too common tendency to act as if Western aid is the true backbone of African women’s advancement (imperialism, anyone?)

What we should be focusing on is the inspirational work of African feminist activists who ensured (and continue to secure) the inclusion of women post-conflict through policy, legislation, and extremely admirable solidarity. Individuals like the late Judith Kanakuze, who created Twese Hamne (Pro-Femmes), should be acknowledged for their impressively organized prioritization of equality during the rebuilding of Rwanda—and their efforts should not just be honored by Western feminists, but recognized as lessons

Here’s a brief list of some African feminist causes and trailblazing women we can learn from:

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka – Mlambo-Ngcuka is currently the Executive Director of UN Women, and she’s held plenty of powerful positions in the past, including but not limited to her role as the Deputy President of South Africa from 2005-2008.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Sirleaf is currently acting as Liberia’s head of state, and broke ground when she became the first woman to hold the position.

Rwanda Women Network – Founded in 1997, this group focuses on improving the socio-economic welfare of women in Rwanda. 

Aminata Toure – Toure was elected Senegal’s first female prime minister in 2013. She was dubbed “Iron Lady” by the press due to her anti-corruption campaign (our kinda girl.)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – Dlamini-Zuma became the first female African Union Chair in 2012. 

Image via Foreign Affairs

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