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A young mother learns about how to use birth control at a family planning clinic near Kigali. - 

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Kai Ryssdal: Sixteen years after the horrible genocide in Rwanda, the country is slowly putting itself back together. Almost every citizen can get basic health care. You can access the Internet in most places. Gross domestic product, that is the economy, is growing steadily. All due, in part, to one particular part of the population: Women.

Lisa Desai reports.


Lisa Desai:Take a stroll through the capital city of Kigali and you'll come face-to-face with today's Rwanda. Roads are paved, tall buildings dot the skyline. And workers sweep the streets clean every morning. These are just a few signs of Rwanda's slow but steady fight against poverty. The government has big hopes to triple the size of the economy in just 10 years.

Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariy: The status of Rwandans in 16 years has never been better.

That's politician Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariy. She says when the genocide ended, Rwanda was left 70 percent female. So women picked up the pieces and started to rebuild. Today, in almost every sector of Rwandan life, you'll find a woman.

d'Arc Mujawamariy: Because you know they are now in business, they are in social development, they are in economic empowerment.

And they're also in leadership roles. Rwanda's the only country in the world where women outnumber men in Parliament. Just 10 years ago women weren't allowed to own land or keep their assets separate from their husbands. Now they can. And Rwanda now has a special police unit to stop domestic violence. The government is also trying to draw more women out of the house and into the work force. All over this very Catholic country you'll find family planning clinics.

Sound of babies crying

At a clinic near Kigali, there's a full house. About 40 women are learning how to use contraceptives and stocking up free of charge.

Celine Uwayisaba is waiting to pick up her birth control pills. She doesn't want too many kids. She says she'd rather work and earn an income, just like her husband.

Celine Uwayisaba: I enjoy being a businesswoman, because I can buy whatever I want without bothering my husband. Women also need to prosper and contribute to the school fees of their children.

Notice how she focused on education? Many government officials are convinced that women are more likely than men to invest in the household. Give them some money and they'll buy food, clothes and tuition. Even the men agree.

Dr. Jean Ntawukuriryayois the leader in Rwanda's parliament. He says that's how Rwanda will lift itself out of poverty -- one strong woman at a time.

Dr. Jean Ntawukuriryayois: The woman is the heart of the family, the heart of the house. So if your heart is working well, the whole body, I think, is also to benefit.

But there are still challenges. Most Rwandan women can't get loans because of high interest rates and too much red tape.


Sound of Cancilde Kazimoto walking and talking to a worker

One of those women is Cancilde Kazimoto. She bought five acres of land, just outside Kigali for a tomato farm. But she can only make money off half of it. For her business to expand she'll need a greenhouse, good fertilizer...


Sound woman with the hoe

Kazimoto's lobbying for women to get easier access to loans. She says just a little bit of money could take her business a long way. And she's not afraid to think big.

Cancilde Kazimoto: Why not start a tomato processing industry? Maybe we could turn the tomatoes into ketchup. There is no such thing in Rwanda.


Sound of a market

At a busy market in Kigali, Kazimoto tries to sell her tomatoes. Every penny she makes will go to her back to family and her business. Kazimoto is determined to see it grow. She compares her tomato business to the women of Rwanda: It's come a long way, she says, and still has a long way to go.

In Kigali, Rwanda I'm Lisa Desai for Marketplace.

Kai Ryssdal: You can see the women you just met. We have photos from Lisa's trip to Rwanda at our website Marketplace.org.