Every year, the month of March serves as a special time to reflect on the meaning of International Women’s Day.
In Rwanda, this year’s special month was welcome through a series of events, highlighting the roles played by all our women in the building of our nation, while also celebrating their innovative and entrepreneurial spirits.
The past weeks saw different generations come together to assess the work to be done for the continuous empowerment of our women in our various communities, building on how far we have come.
This was also a time to look back at the dignified Rwandan woman, who more than half a century later, we still remember vividly. The many who were taken away from us, and the last few, who in our darkest times, beautifully drew from the deepest roots of our culture, to keep their families together, and to nurture an abiding love and patriotism for our nation.
These women inspired us to aim for more, to do more, to never lose hope. They were the ones that kept a candle lit in our darkest times, as their star never dimmed in the starkest night. I believe history will always praise the sacrifices they consented for our communities, for their selflessness was not in vain.
The generation of sons and daughters they bore and raised, made the ultimate sacrifice, and shouldered the task of building a new and dignified nation.
It is in fact more than a moral obligation to never forget the high price paid, to be who we are today. We are forever indebted to them for investing in the future of their children and making it the purpose of their lives.
We will forever be grateful and rejoice in their achievements, while drawing pride and lessons from every obstacle they overcame as we continue to work tirelessly for this land to see the peace, respect and dignity all her sons and daughters deserve.
We will never say it enough; our Rwandan woman is truly remarkable! Her essence is made of strength and courage that define her.
Our history is filled with brave women of all ages who refused to be complicit in tearing apart our country, and were not bystanders to injustice and violence but instead they made the difficult but right choice. From the Nyange schoolgirls who paid the ultimate price with their lives, refusing to be separated along ethnic lines; to the wives who stood up against their husbands, refusing to stay silent in the face of the crimes they committed.
I think of women like Rose Mureshyankwano, who for years believed in sectarian ideology but ultimately freed herself from divisive politics. Women raised by those who carefully planned and executed the genocide, who finally broke the cycle of perpetual hatred from one generation to another; to all of those who now call themselves proud daughters of Rwanda.
We also honor the widows, who despite their aching hearts formed new families and cherished the genocide orphans who longed for their warm motherly love. These beloved Rwandan women earned the endearing name, Les Mamans Affection, for finding in them the courage to give some more, after so much had been taken away from them.
These women are indeed much more than a mother, wife, sister and daughter.
This dignified, remarkable, beloved Rwandan woman is the matriarch, pioneer, leader, descended from greatness, who holds high the torch that lights the way for others. She paves the way and weaves the thread to those who need to hear her stories, so they too, will know that within them, lie the tools to resilience.
Through her passion, she engaged us. Through her words, she educated us. Through her actions, she empowered us.
I speak from the heart, when I say we are proud of you, powerful Rwandan woman. You are the rock upon which we have built our foundation and you have now reclaimed your rightful place among the leaders of our country. Unwavering and firm, you lift up your song in synchrony with that of your brothers’ chorus, which for too long had been missing your soft, yet, powerful voice.
The word ‘no’ never stopped you from pushing on to new frontiers, for without your determination, who would the younger ones look up to? Through you, future generations will know that a woman’s worth is equal to any man’s.
So, now and always, we pay tribute to you.
– The writer, Her Excellency Jeannette Kagame, is the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda.