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KAI RYSSDAL: The Rwandan genocide 13 years ago left almost a million people dead. When it was over, 70 percent of the people left in the country were women. Most Tutsi men had been killed, most of the Hutu men had fled.
Today, Rwanda’s far more politically stable, and the economy is growing at a rate the U.S. might envy — almost 6 percent last year. Orly Halpern reports you can credit the women.
ORLY HALPERN: As empty bottles are whisked off tables here at Remera’s outdoor bar, one man relaxes over a few drinks with his buddies. There’s no sign saying women are not allowed. But look around Remera’s, and you’ll see mostly tables of beer-chugging men.
BAR PATRON: In Rwandan culture most women don’t stay in bars. Men always stay their time in bars.
This is where Rwandan men spend lots of their money — it’s an age-old tradition. Jacqueline Mukagatere’s husband once spent time at bars like this. But he was killed in the genocide, leaving Jacqueline with five kids and a household to run.
JACQUELINE MUKAGATERE: I won’t buy beers. I spend money to take the kids to the national park, to show them tigers and lions, or to organize some birthday for the kids.
The tragedy forced Jacqueline and hundreds of thousands of other women like her to become their own money managers, and to force political change. Women can now inherit land, they hold high positions in government, and today virtually half the Parliament is women — that’s the highest percentage in the world.
One of those is Parliamentarian Specioza Mukandutiye, who’s heading self-assuredly to her office. She says Rwandan women who head households have earned a reputation for being more economically sensible than men.
SPECIOZA MUKANDUTIYE: We women, we plan what we want to buy and we give priorities on the things which are very necessary to our families. For example, if we have few or little money, we give priority to education of our children.
This month, Mukandutiye called for gender equality in the national budget. She argues that more money should be put towards health, education and employment, sectors where women lag behind men.
A few years ago Jacqueline got a micro-loan to open a supply business. Now she drives through the streets of Muhanga buying food and delivering it to a boarding school. By local standards, she’s a huge success.
MUKAGATERE: I built two houses, I bought a car, I put my kids through school… My husband didn’t do that.
Despite her steady income, she’s never gotten over the fear of hunger. Her insurance policy is in a chicken coop in her backyard — she never wants a day to go by without meat on the table.
MUKAGATERE: I have responsibilities, so when I am waiting to be paid I can still take a rabbit or a chicken for dinner.
There is something else that drives Jacqueline to work so hard: Her husband’s killers have returned to their village. For her, success means that despite the genocide, her family has not been defeated.
In Rwanda, I’m Orly Halpern for Marketplace.
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