Schoolgirl defends mother against abusive father, becomes Speaker of Parliament and spokesperson for women – KT PRESS
Fifty-nine years ago, a little girl was born into a family of sixteen children in the former commune of Masango, now Ruhango district – southern province at a time when polygamy was a common trend.
Parents called her Rose Mukantabana. She grew up in a climate of gender-based violence where a woman was neglected and her education, the right to property was not a priority.
Not going to school or even dropping out of school in the middle of lower primary had been a “justification” for both sexes, but especially for women.
“Are you studying to become a village chief, mayor or legislator? was a question they always asked a young girl who wanted to persevere in a difficult education in my time, ”recalls Rose Mukantabana, who defied the odds by becoming the first woman president of the Parliament of Rwanda 2008-2013. “Indeed, in my time, there were no women in leadership positions from local to central level. “
Mukantabana studied his primary school in four schools after his family moved to Murama commune, now Nyanza district. She left her village of Nyagisozi which only had Primary One and Two, 3 kilometers from her home.
She then went to Cyabakamyi School for Primary 3 which is an 8 km walk away before going to Nyabinyenga for Primary 4 and that meant 10 km walking from / to the school.
It was his routine six days of each school calendar week, but all of his siblings dropped out of elementary 3 saying there was no motivation to suffer.
Parents were always happy to see their children at home because there was a lot of work; grazing cows, farming and many more in the predominantly farming community.
But for Mukantabana, she persevered and finished 4th primary with the first mark in her class despite everything.
After elementary 4, she was fortunate to have a new school – Kabere Primary School in the present sector of Kabagari, Ruhango district which is 4 kilometers from her home. Changing schools was a good thing because her male classmates had started targeting her.
“My male comrades swore they would beat me at the end of the year for being the top of my class,” recalls Mukantabana.
“On proclamation day, my father escorted me to school and realized how painful this trip was. He found me a shorter school as a reward for being the best student.
A ‘cow’ prevents Mukantabana from taking the primary school leaving exam
Mukantabana studied 5th and 6th grade at her new school and was relieved that the distance was relatively shorter.
Like her classmates, she signed up for the Primary School Leaving Exam (PLE), but didn’t know a cow would spoil itself.
In 1973, on the eve of the national exams that she was to take at GS Karambi, Mukantabana recovered her academic identity card known in French as the Fiche Signalitique. The ID included all of a student’s contact and identifying details, including the ethnicity that was the basis for the allocation of student places – the quota system.
On her way home, she saw her sister grazing cows and passed by. She left her identity card and a cow took care of it.
“As we were sharing food supplies that I had not finished at school, I realized that the cow was eating my ID card. I screamed and the cow herders tried to save him, but it was too late, ”Mukantabana said.
After thinking about what to do, Mukantabana returned to the school to ask for another piece of ID, only to be told that this was not possible as the IDs came from the Ministry of Education. ‘Education, well sealed, without a single duplicate.
“My teacher advised me to ask the bourgmestre if I could get help, but the bourgmestre told me that there was nothing he could do about it,” Mukantabana said.
However, the official advised him to go to the examination site the next morning to see if Masango and Murama’s education inspector who was at the site could help him.
“I woke up early in the morning with my mother. I presented my case to the academy inspector who was with supervisors from the Ministry of Education. They told me that it was not possible to take the exam without the document, ”she recalls.
The only promise they made was to file a report that would allow him to repeat sixth grade and take the exam the following year, and that was honored.
“When I remember that there was no telephone back then! The bourgmestre would have called and the problem could probably be solved, ”she said.
In 1974, Mukantabana wrote PLE and was successful. She was admitted to the Nyanza Girls’ School at the lower level, then Rwaza to the upper level at the Teacher Training College.
In Secondary 5, students had two choices: continue with teacher training or go to the secretariat.
She joined the Secretariat, completed in 1981 and married a longtime friend Athanase Muyango the following year in Kigali where she had obtained a job after high school.
Mukantabana focused on her family and her work. Despite being brilliant, she suspended education because the only higher education institution was the National University of Rwanda which was not open to everyone on merit.
When then Education Minister Agathe Uwiringiyimana relaxed access to the university, Mukantabana applied for a scholarship to study law and she was admitted to the Mburabuturo-Kigali campus, the plot that houses today the College of Business.
She stopped in 1994 during the genocide against the Tutsi and resumed in 1995 but was halfway when her husband died in 1996. This loss forced her to stop again to take care of her children. children.
Since 1996, Mukantabana has officially been a women’s activist. That year, she was employed by Haguruka, a civil society organization that defends the rights of children and women until she returned to complete her baccalaureate.
Haguruka would return her to the post of executive secretary after graduation, given her passion for defending women’s rights.
However, advocating for a woman’s cause, gender balance has been part of Mukantabana’s life since childhood. His late mother was the primary beneficiary of this activism.
We promised to beat him if he dared to abuse my mother
Mukantabana has witnessed gender-based domestic violence since childhood in his own family and village.
While in Primary 4, Mukantabana was saddened by her father’s decision to marry a second wife and then a third. But it came after years of her mother’s suffering.
“He used to beat my mom, something we never understood,” she said.
“We were three daughters born to my mother. He prevented us all from having any property rights and we became a miserable family.
Mukantabana remembers that the family had a huge banana plantation and many farms and cows.
“Father prevented us from having bananas to feed us. He refused us firewood from our forest and went further to prevent cow herders from giving us milk, ”Mukantabana said.
“We could get hungry sometimes until worried neighbors told my mom to always come and get food.”
However, an event sparked a change and Mukantabana, the last born in her mother’s womb, is happy she acted the way she acted.
“I was in Senior Six and one day it rained cuts and dogs. My mother was unable to collect food crops from the neighbors. She decided to cut the banana on our farm despite the father’s warning that he would kill her the day she entered the farm, ”she recalls.
“Mother cut the banana but felt uncomfortable. She left the banana house and escaped.
“My mother-in-law alerted my father who rushed to his house and picked the banana while renewing the warning: tell your mother never to dare again!
When the mother returned, Mukantabana told her the story and added, “Mom! You should take her to court. We need to get our rights back.
The mother hesitated because she feared the worst, but Mukantabana convinced her.
“I prepared my mother’s case and this was my first attempt at advocacy for women,” she said.
The court of first instance – then called Canton court decided on the physical separation and since then Mukantabana, her mother and the two siblings have been relieved.
“We told my dad that if he dared to come back and cause mom problems, we would beat him. He gave up, ”says Mukantabana.
Rwanda’s first female speaker, the world’s female-dominated parliament
Over the years, Mukantabana has served in several capacities, defending women’s rights. She has worked at Haguruka, USAID, Action Aid and was formerly Vice President of Pro Women Twese Hamwe.
After her law degree, she studied Human Rights at Masters level in Belgium and continued to climb the ranks until being elected Member of the 24 seats dedicated to women in 2008.
She was elected president by her fellow parliamentarians, becoming the first woman president of parliament in Rwanda.
“It was the most feminine parliament in the world with 55% women. It wasn’t something to brag about; rather, it encouraged my colleagues and I to work hard so as not to disappoint, ”Mukantabana said.
One of the achievements of her parliament was to amend laws that segregated women or denied them equal rights with men.
In 2013, Munkantabana was re-elected as a Member of Parliament and she served until 2018.
– Kigali today (@kigalitoday) May 19, 2016
She is currently a practicing lawyer and member of the Rwanda Bar. She hates injustice and loves Rwanda.
“When I’m away I miss everything in my country including the dust, the hills and name it,” she said.
Mukantana is a mother of two and a grandmother of two grandchildren.
Some quotes from Rose Mukantabana
No one has ever made themselves tall by showing how small someone else is.
– Rose MUKANTABANA (@Mukarose) January 15, 2013
Dignity is inherent in the human being and is not given by one human being to another. Everyone, wherever they are, deserves it.
– Rose MUKANTABANA (@Mukarose) Jan. 14, 2013
The way to start is to stop talking and start doing.
– Rose MUKANTABANA (@Mukarose) January 3, 2013
With the contribution of Germaine Umukazana and Richard Kwizera