For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"When “Bright Futures” Fade: Paradoxes of Women’s Empowerment in Rwanda"

by Berry, Marie E (2015)


Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has emerged as a global model for the promotion of women in society. Today, Rwanda has progressive gender-sensitive laws, more girls than boys in primary school, and the world’s highest percentage of women in parliament. But has this national-level progress manifested in an actual improvement in the lives of ordinary Rwandan women? If not, what has prevented these rights-based empowerment efforts from taking hold? Drawing from interviews with 152 women at all levels of Rwandan society, this article illustrates the contradictory and complicated nature of women’s empowerment efforts. It identifies three paradoxes that capture how efforts to promote women can be undermined by deeply rooted social processes. First, women are granted new rights but cannot access them unless they are married, which further reinforces their dependence on men. Second, policies aim to empower women through education but have unintended consequences that create new forms of oppression. Third, in order to advance the image of a modern Rwanda, the government restricts women’s labor, further entrenching their poverty. Each of these paradoxes suggests that efforts to remedy women’s subordination may actually end up reinforcing it.


Rwanda, Africa, Education, Women Empowerment, Womens Work, Female Labour, Gender, Gendered Labour


Non-Western Societies, African History

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