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Documentary highlights the leadership and progress of Rwandan women

By Daphne Mack
ENS 030205-1
[Episcopal News Service]  Anglican women joined other participants in the 49th session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) gathered at the United Nations Church Center for a screening of Ladies First, a film highlighting the new roles of Rwandan women in government, business, education and reconciliation.

The 50-minute documentary profiled Rwandan women on the forefront of change and showcased the challenges facing them and their country as Rwanda struggles to build a sustainable peace between the Hutus and Tutsis.

Rwanda is a tiny country of only 26,000 square kilometers (about the size of Maryland) with a pre-genocide population of seven million. In the late 1980s, its economy began to slide under the authoritarian politics of President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Habyarimana vowed to create a policy of ethnic "balance" that would allot education and employment to Hutu (85% of the population) and Tutsi (15% of the population.) Extremist Hutu, opposed to this plan, formed the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded, plunging the country into civil war and a vicious cycle of human rights abuse.

After a plane carrying Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryama, president of Burundi, crashed in April 1994 killing both men, a wave of anarchy and mass killings followed slaughtering an estimated 800,000 people in just 100 days.

Those who fled to survive the massacre returned to Rwanda in late 1996 and early 1997.

Viewers of Ladies First heard stories of hope from women who were the lone survivors in their families, alienated by the families of their common-law husbands, and now are property owners. Ladies First told the story of how Rwandan women, who before did not have the right to vote, much less run for political office, now make up 48% of the country's Parliament.

Colette Kunkel, of Wide Angle, the films producer, spoke about the Association of Catholic Mothers, a group of women who reconciled with each other in the aftermath of the genocide.  She said that these women, a mixture of genocide survivors, and the female relatives of men still imprisoned for alleged acts of genocide, share food and help each other with farming and other daily chores.

"I think this film will help women get representation at the church's table," Archdeacon Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Matalavea, Anglican Observer at the United Nations, said.

The event was sponsored by the Anglican Consultative Council and Episcopal Women in Mission and Ministry, USA and was moderated by Dr. Pauline Muchina of Population Services International.

For more on the Wide Angle series visit Also to view segments of Ladies First visit