Global Grassroots 2011 Year-End Magazine - Page 47

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Global Grassroots 2011

challenge she experienced was when some community members balked when she discussed with them the “equal rights” of men and women. In response to this challenge, she and the other focal points decided to shift their message to the public slightly. They then spoke to community members not of “equality,” but rather of “complementarity” of men and women. With this approach, they felt that their message was being heard and internalized by more and more residents of this rural village.

I remember consciously trying to control my jumpy feminist impulses. Wasn’t talking “complementarity” as opposed to equality tantamount to ceding failure for a social venture dedicated to promoting women’s rights?

On the bus ride back to Kigali, I asked Joseph, the Rwandan Program Associate who served as my invaluable meeting facilitator and translator, to clarify his interpretation of the semantic difference between equality and complementarity. It was as I had thought: complementarity emphasizes gendered role

differences in order to form a complete and fulfilled partnership between husband and wife, whereas equality emphasizes the capabilities of husband and wife as being the same. But while we were reflecting upon this together, I slowly realized that complementarity versus equality wasn’t the fight. Maybe someday, rural Rwandans will be debating the nuances between these two words; but right now, vulnerable, rural Rwandans are becoming aware that husbands beating their wives is neither productive nor morally sound, and that, in fact, there is a national law against this practice.

That is the most important message that Light In Our Home is sending to hundreds of residents in Ruhanga. And that is the very same message that I, an idealistic Westerner, might have missed if I were working in development or starting my own social venture in Rwanda. The Global Grassroots model of providing comprehensive training and intensive engagement and support to vulnerable, local people to support their ideas for how they will help their own communities works. When it comes to social change for women in Rwanda, Rwandan women know best.

photo by Laya Madsen