SEATTLE, Washington — Rwanda’s strategy for poverty alleviation has gathered much international attention due to the country’s violent history and the large number of women on its legislative body. In 1994, in a period of 100 days, 800,000 Tutsi citizens were massacred by the Hutu majority, and in the aftermath, organizations such as the United Nations placed strict measures to protect human rights in the new constitution. One of these provisions was the institution of a gendered quota system in which 30% of legislators are required to be women. In the following years, the country’s GDP increased and the poverty ratio fell from 78% to 48%. This success was in large part due to the involvement of female legislators. Women’s empowerment in Rwanda has been a key factor in reducing poverty.
Agriculture in Rwanda
The revitalization of the agricultural sector has been the main mode to eradicate poverty in the region because it accounts for 79.5% of the labor force and it accounts for 33% of the GDP. Both the International Development Association (IDA) and the World Bank have been particularly invested in this process, funding projects such as the Rural Sector Support Project (RSSP) and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation (LWH) Project. Both of these projects worked to plant crops that would enrich the soil, reversing the years of soil degradation and ensuring healthy soil for years to come. In addition, the LWH Project has worked to ensure that rural areas that have historically not had access to water are guaranteed water through innovative irrigation techniques. However, without addressing gender inequality, hopes for progress in Rwanda would be limited.
Rwandan Women in Agriculture
Women produce 70% of Rwanda’s agricultural output, therefore they are responsible for the economic success of the country. In the aftermath of the genocide, women constituted 70% of the Rwandan population and many of these women were widowed, victims of sexual violence or had lost their families in the genocide. Societal attitudes toward women before the genocide greatly contributed to the violence they suffered during the genocide and many of these attitudes were perpetrated by men who wished to keep control over their female population. This meant women did not have access to education or economic freedom and they were confined to their roles as mothers and wives. Beginning in the early 2000s, women’s groups began to advocate for their rights. Through their activism, they have established the gender quota, changed property laws and helped change societal attitudes on women.
Women’s Empowerment in Rwanda Alleviates Poverty
As attitudes and laws about women began to change, the country saw its poverty level go down. Some scholars believe this is because the enfranchisement and emancipation of women have allowed for the cycle of poverty to be broken. Women who previously had been caught within a system that left them dependent on their husbands now found themselves the sole breadwinner of their households. With the change to property law, these women inherited the farmland of their husbands and many began to work it and use it as a means of income. As the land was revitalized, it gained value and as the women became unable to till their fields, their daughters inherited the farms. This has begun a process of generational wealth building for women, and today, more girls are able to go to school because their families are economically stable. Female lawmakers were a large part of this success, mainly because they understood that to mollify the poverty crisis, they first had to address the social inequality that perpetrated the poverty.
A Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction Success Story
Going forward, it is necessary to recognize the education and emancipation of women as part of Rwanda’s success in alleviating poverty. Once women were given the social and legal ability to pursue their own economic liberation through farming, the country saw a spike in agriculture and a decrease in poverty. For all nations, the prioritization of women’s education and leadership is necessary for a functioning society. As seen, women’s empowerment in Rwanda had a major impact on poverty. Without world action that prioritizes women, progress on global issues will be hindered. The United States has clearly indicated its support for global women’s empowerment as a means to alleviate poverty. The Girls LEAD Act was introduced in 2019 and recognizes and promotes girls’ civic and political leadership as a priority for U.S. foreign assistance efforts.
– Mary Buffaloe