Visit WIDE ANGLE on pbs.org
Video Help Video Bank
70% Female (1:22) Excerpt from film "Ladies First" July 2004
Before 1994, women in Rwanda had never been able to own land, open a bank account, or work outside the home. Since then they have made great strides toward rights and equality, and have become outspoken leaders in Rwanda.

Country: Rwanda
Related Lesson Plan:
  • You Go Girls

  • Rwanda
    Download video:
    (PC: right click & select Save Target As) (Mac: hold down CTRL button & click)
    Quicktime (7630k) Realplayer (5130k) Windows Media (4750)

    Guiding Questions
    1. What demographic changes have resulted from civil war and genocide in Rwanda? How have these demographic changes promoted social transformation?

    Background Essay
    In 1994, as a result of the civil war and genocide that devastated the country, 70 % of Rwanda's population was female. Before this time women had very limited roles in the society, but in the post-genocide era this has changed greatly.

    The history of Rwanda is a complex one, steeped in a legacy of shifting colonial powers and ethnic conflict. First colonized by Germany in the 1890s, Rwanda subsequently fell under Belgian rule in the aftermath of World War I. The European colonists helped to widen tribal resentments between two ethnic groups living in the area, the Hutus and Tutsis. In the early days of colonization, German and then Belgian authorities gave preferential privileges to Tutsis, who were in the minority in the population. But when Rwanda began to demand independence from Belgium in the late 1950s, the colonists shifted allegiance and backed the previously sublimated Hutus. Tutsi loyalists attempted to stop this shift by killing key Hutu leaders. The payback was swift and brutal, and the Hutus launched the first of several pogroms against Tutsi people. In the years that followed, waves of Tutsi refugees left the country. By 1990 there were approximately 600,000 Rwandans living in exile.

    In April 1994, Rwanda's then-powerful Hutu carried out a systematic slaughter of the Tutsi people. The aim was to stop invading Rwandan Tutsi revolutionaries and to remove their local support by liquidating their power base. The Hutu-led Mouvement Révolutionnaire Nationale pour le Développement (MRND — National Revolutionary Movement for Development) and its military carried out an attempt at genocide. In response, Tutsi revolutionaries took control of the country in July, stemming the violence. But in terms of genocide, most observers would agree that the Hutus were frighteningly successful — killing more than 800,000 people in a short three-month period.

    Ten years after this horrific atrocity, the country had much healing to do - but had also become a model of feminist opportunity. With so many male Rwandans killed off by the 1994 genocide, nearly seventy percent of the remaining population was female. Recent developments in the government and legislature to place women in positions of power upturned a long history of female disempowerment and have made Rwanda one of the most progressive nations in the world in terms of gender equity. Women now participate at every level of government and occupy almost half the seats in the national parliament.

    In 1994 women and girls made up 70 percent of the population in Rwanda -- a result of the civil war and genocide that had devastated the country. Women had never been allowed to own land, to open a bank account or even to work outside the home without their husband's permission.

    Our history used to keep ladies behind. It was not normal to find a lady taking decisions.

    Men owned property, women did not own property. Actually, women were among the property that men owned.

    Ten years later, there's a radical social transformation underway. Women have gone from having no voice to becoming outspoken leaders. Today they participate at every level of government and occupy almost half the seats in the national parliament.

    Related Links
    Print Classroom Tips