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A. Inyumba: Promoting Strong Family Values in Rwanda

Address to a Conference on "Promoting Strong Family Values as a Foundation for a Peaceful Nation"
Universal Peace Federation and Women's Federation for World Peace
Toronto, Canada, June 9, 2012

On behalf of my country Rwanda, I am honored to be here with you today. I am here responding to the invitation extended to the First Lady of Rwanda from both the Universal Peace Federation and Women's Federation for World Peace. The First Lady of Rwanda conveyed with me a message of thank you for your willingness to learn from Rwanda’s case.

I am very pleased to see Rwandans here this morning. I acknowledge your contribution.

“Promoting Strong Family Values” is one of the driving forces of the Rwandan society. I am here to share the experience of Rwanda and the lessons we can learn as global citizens on how we can restore a family and a society once it has been destroyed.

Traditionally and historically; a strong family has been known as one that nourishes, supports, and sustains its members. A strong family provides a safe, positive and supportive environment to all members to thrive.

As you may know, in 1994 a tragic event happened in our country; a million of people were killed in 90 days. Tutsis of Rwanda were killed by their own countrymen and women with the intention to exterminate them. This led to unimaginable atrocities whereby parents killed their own children, their spouses, in-laws, friends, teachers/students, neighbors, etc. We had half a million orphans. In 1994, not only lives were destroyed but also properties and resources. This resulted in a complete socio-economical and environmental destruction. In this period of time every Rwandan was displaced whether internally or externally.

To rebuild our nation was not an easy task, and we still have some challenges in our quest to manage the consequences of genocide.

Where do you start when you have thousands of orphans who are not attended to? With a large number of widows who lack not only the essential needs but also who are traumatized? Where do you begin asking a victim to go back to their villages and live in the same neighborhood with those who perpetrated crimes against them?

Strong families are the key to our society. The government of Rwanda established a full Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion with a strong mandate of promoting family values. We established national campaign with the slogan “every child needs a family,” and 70 orphanages were closed.

We knew that the task of rebuilding our country begins with the children. Today we have managed to place over 300,000 children in families. We had about 100 orphanages, and we had a campaign to take children out of the institutions. About 95 percent of the children are attending school, which is a miracle.

During the genocide, women were targeted on the basis not only of their ethnicity but also of their gender. They were subjected to sexual assault and torture, including mass rape, forced incest, etc. Women who survived the genocide witnessed unspeakable cruelty; they lost husbands, children, relatives, and communities.

Now women are providing leadership in reconciliation and rebuilding the economy. The men knew that to rebuild the country, men and women, boys and girls, had to join hands.

In the immediate aftermath, women assumed roles as heads of household, community leaders, and financial providers as they sought to meet the needs of devastated families and communities. Women were forced to develop skills in non-traditional professions (ex: construction, police, security forces).

The president is uplifting women. Women are leading environmental protection efforts. We are blessed by good leadership that supports and believes in us.

The 2003 legal reform is a critical tool for sustaining women’s participation in politics. The constitution protects women's right to participate in decision-making positions at all levels of government. As the foundation of the post-genocide legal system, the constitution mandates a minimum of 30 percent representation of women at all decision-making levels (ex: local government, parliament, cabinet). With 56 percent representation, Rwandan women are sitting on top of the world in rankings of women in national parliaments.

In conclusion, you may ask yourselves how Rwanda achieved so much in a short time.  The simple way of responding to this question is to refer you to the constitution's fundamental principles which guide the State of Rwanda:

  1. Fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations;
  2. Eradicating ethnic, regional, and other divisions and promoting national unity;
  3. Equitable sharing of power;
  4. Building a state governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic government, equality of all Rwandans and between women and men, reflected by ensuring that women are granted at least 30 percent of posts in decision-making organs;
  5. Building a state committed to promoting social welfare and establishing appropriate mechanisms for ensuring social justice;
  6. Continually seeking solutions through dialogue and consensus.

It was not easy for the survivors to live side by side with the perpetrators. People felt the pain and destruction. We believe that Tutsi and Hutus need a home together. We are brothers. We have a common language, a common culture, a common education. We were convinced that the only way to rebuild the country was to work together.

We visited other countries. We went to South Africa and talked to Bishop Desmond Tutu. We wanted to learn from our neighbors. We came back convinced that rebuilding our country would be led by the Rwanda people. This has become the best option for our people. For the first time we have a Cabinet where everyone is represented. For the first time, school children are being promoted on merit. Everything is happening for the first time. Reconciliation is very essential for everything we do.

We have followed our traditional way of resolving conflict (gacaca), where victims and perpetrators sit together and make confessions. “I’m very sorry I killed your children (wife).” The survivor stands up and if they sense it is genuine, they offer pardon. The third step is for the victim and perpetrator to do community work together.

People believed that the previous justice system would not work, because everything was broken down. We followed this traditional way. Now people are in school together. People are in churches together. People travel on public transportation. We have managed to raise 1 million people out of poverty.

Over the last 18 years we have made remarkable progress; we still face challenges and still need to learn from others.

Sometimes we don’t want to blow our trumpet. But our neighbors and friends are talking about the remarkable achievements in this small central African country. We were the first country to provide a peacekeeping mission in Sudan. We sent a peacekeeping force to Haiti and Liberia. We are helping the internally displaced people. We wanted to contribute and give a small service to countries that are going through a similar experience.

We are also working on issues of accountability. We are addressing corruption. We have joined the African Union and the commonwealth. We want to be part of the larger community.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have issues. But we have been blessed in our country. There is a new mindset. We have the attitude that we are one family. We can change and make our country a better world and a peaceful world.

When we looked at this invitation and the message of world peace in consultation with the First Lady, we were convinced that Rwanda wanted to be part of this discussion. We brought a token of appreciation to you, some Rwandan coffee and tea.