By Maggie Freleng
Twenty years after genocide, sexual violence, and war plagued Rwanda, the country has started to rebuild and get back on its feet. The African nation has done something amazing that no other country has.
In 2008, Rwanda became the first country ever to have a female majority in parliament.
Today, 64 percent of the Rwandan legislature is female, and notable and noticeable strides have been made because of these women.
For example, women can now own land and property and choose to pool their assets with their husband. Inheritances are now split equally between a wife and both female and male children.
Contraception has been made widely available, and women are now told it is their right to choose to have a child.
Although the country has still not reached parity with some in the developing world in terms of education and maternity leave, it has taken the first steps.
Infographic via National Geographic
According to The World Bank, between 2001 and 2012, real GDP growth in Rwanda averaged 8.1 percent per annum. The poverty rate dropped from 59 pecent in 2001 to 45 percent in 2011, while inequality reduced from 0.52 in 2005 to 0.49 in 2011.
ENDING SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Also worth noting: as soon as Rwanda introduced its majority female leadership, ending sexual violence became a top priority in the country.
Rape has become an extremely serious offense in Rwanda after an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the course of the genocide that plagued the country in 1994.
According to Women Under Siege, an organization which documents how rape and other forms of sexualized violence are used as tools in genocide and conflict, rape carried a stigma in Rwandan society, and survivors were marginalized in their communities and seen as unfit to marry.
However, the country is making strides to move forward, create change, right wrongs, and enforce a safer environment.
In 2008, domestic violence was made illegal in Rwanda, and harsh prison terms were given to rapists.
According to Judith Kanakuze, who led the drafting of the bill which made domestic violence illegal, the goal was not just to punish such behavior, but to change behavior altogether. "To stop men from beating their partners and stop women from tolerating the beating," National Geographic reported.
Rwanda has also extensively trained police officers—as well as community-policing committees of 90,000 civilians across the country—to better deal with security and combating sexual violence.
The country has also put in place a network of clinics, the One Stop Center, where survivors of sexual violence literally have to make only one stop to get medical treatment, counseling, and legal help.
The One Stop Centre and the broader system of trained officers the police are putting in place are the result of a major push to make good on the government's policy of zero tolerance for sexual violence. Free police hotlines are also available to all women who need assistance.
Ending violence against women is the first step towards a country's all-around economic and social well-being. The U.S. could take a few pointers from Rwanda.