As covered by National Public Radio this last Sunday, Rwandans are entering a three month long period of remembrance of the genocide that occurred 20 years ago. Poverty, inequality, repression of women and ethnic hatred fanned by influential Rwandan men ignited a spree of murder that claimed the lives of nearly one million souls.
After the killing was over 70% of the population were women. These women were left to pick up the pieces left them by the murder of neighbors and families. The women of Rwanda have had no choice but to heal their wounds by the kind of decisive action that has now, buy some estimations, elevated their country to the status of one of the cleanest and least corrupt in Africa poised on the brink of a technological revolution.
Today, women hold more seats in Rwandan parliament than any other nation in the world. Forty percent of the president’s cabinet is female and over 50% of the judiciary is comprised of women. Women may now own property, girls and women may inherit wealth from their parents, and girls are being educated in unprecedented numbers to prepare them for future leadership roles.
Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, proudly recites the rebirth of women’s empowerment in Rwanda, but admits that full gender equality is still a work in progress.
Hearing these stories about Rwanda’s rise from the ashes of genocidal holocaust got me thinking about an entry I posted on November 19 last year. In my essay, The Meek Will Inherit the Earth, I wrote about the human race as a geological force strong enough to change our climate and threaten our existence as a species. I also defined meek as not merely humble, gentle and patient, but as cooperative. One part of the inheritance of the meek that I didn’t speak about but have always held as central to my thoughts on this subject is that after the aggressive and hateful extinguish themselves in a national blood-letting like Rwanda, that the meek will be left to rebuild a society based on justice and equality rather than hate and violence.
Now the formerly oppressed women, girls and orphans of Rwanda who were brutalized, raped and tortured en masse 20 years ago are in the unique position of inheriting their native land. In the process a balance is being established between the men and women of this society that may well lead this once desolate country to become an example of what human potential can achieve when it is based on the cooperation of the meek, the kind and the respectful.
I like to look at this blossoming Rwandan transformation as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Sermon on the Mount that that indeed “the meek will inherit the earth.”
I would also like to think that the whole world could take a lesson from what the Rwandans have so cruelly endured. When girls and women are excluded and disenfranchised, when they are relegated to serfdom, when their human rights and their very bodies can be violated without consequence their society is on a collision course with disaster. When patriarchy enforces itself half the potential of the human species will never reach its potential. Any species that allows such incalculable waste will never have the tools it needs to survive much less flourish.
As I alluded to in my November post, humanity is facing multiple challenges that may well be surmountable. However, considering present circumstances and future trends, our survival as a race is by no means guaranteed. Certainly, without the genius of every man, woman and child willing to guide our troubled evolution we risk everything. Inequality, sexism, racism and hatred are no longer affordable. With nearly 8 billion souls on the planet, the margins of success grow thinner each day.
The Rwandan renewal, though incomplete, presents possibilities for us all; possibilities of a world where every one of us has an equal opportunity to contribute our best. When we get the best from everyone, we can all get the best of every thing.