By Solange Ipmanoyimana

Rwanda is ranked among the countries with the fastest growing rate of economic development worldwide – but it hasn’t always been this way.

Looking back at my childhood, I grew up observing gender inequalities in my community. In the rural areas women were the ones to spend more hours working on the farms, doing chores, and preparing food for the family. Men, on the other hand, were expected to work morning hours and spend the afternoon resting and taking local brews. Though it wasn’t exactly the same in the urban areas, the circumstances weren’t that much different because the women still did all the work at home while the men were in bars. Though women were educated, they would follow the norms of gender. We were taught never to speak in the presence of men or question a man’s judgment. Women were totally dependent on men’s ideas and decisions. Even if women worked many hours with barely any time to rest, they weren’t allowed to make any decisions, including the small ones like buying clothes for themselves.

The denial of women’s independence limited their inner potential, which reduced the positive impact they could have on the country’s development. Like the Kinyarwanda saying goes, “umutwe umwe ntiwigira”(two heads are better than one). Rwanda’s development demonstrates the progress that can be made when women are partners in building a country. Twenty years after women were first encouraged to participate more fully in society, Rwanda’s GDP has more than doubled and women occupy 64% of Rwandan lower parliament seats. Before the current regime, women could not serve as mayors but now they are governing the provinces, districts, and sectors, in large part because our leaders acknowledge and welcome women’s contributions.

Yet even though women’s leadership has been achieved in higher-level public institutions, women occupy only 8% of leadership seats at the local level. This gap represents a significant challenge but also an incredible opportunity for the women of Rwanda.

Resonate has recognized this challenge and wants to build leadership among Rwandan women at all levels to close the gender gap. In cooperation with other organizations that support women and girls, Resonate uses a training program that uses personal storytelling to build self-confidence and unlock leadership potential. Every day at work, I am fortunate to serve the younger generation of future mothers and community leaders who will ensure their sons and daughters are educated equally, paving the way for gender equality.

During our Storytelling for Leadership workshops, we work with women to identify times in their lives when they have already been change makers, and help them recognize what they are capable of achieving. After this short training we have seen a 30% increase in our participant’s self-confidence, comfort speaking publicly, and their desire and ability to lead a team, group, or project.

We are currently developing a network of leaders that supports women to set goals and begin working on a community project of their choice. This network will provide critical skills and a group of supportive peers to help guide them through the process so that they can truly demonstrate their potential as leaders and agents of change.

I am working for Resonate because I believe that women’s voices are important. Although the status of women in Rwandan society has begun to change, more remains to be done to achieve gender equality. From my life experience, I have learned to make my own decisions and I have worked hard to get an education. I always aim high and give my best in everything I do. As a mother, I wish to inspire my daughter through my actions to believe that she can achieve her goals. My wish isn’t only for her, but for every child in our community. Every morning, I wake up energized to help women and girls believe in themselves and take on community leadership roles. They are the key to Rwanda’s successful future.

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