In Rwanda, women’s voices rising

June 9, 2017 | Swanee Hunt

It’s been a 17-year investment of fieldwork, collaboration, analysis, and passion. Finally, my new book, Rwandan Women Rising, is being released this week by Duke University Press!

The women of Rwanda helped rebuild their country after the 1994 genocide, which killed 800,000 people in 100 days. In the years since, these women have transformed a land of devastation and ethnic division into a model for reconciliation and development in Africa and beyond.

In the process, they forged a case study for what I’ve called inclusive security – proving that when women are at the table as decision-makers, they make lasting peace and opportunity more likely. Their story is relevant worldwide, not least in today’s United States.

I decided that the best way to tell this story was for the women themselves to do the talking. Scores of Rwandans recount their roles in this unlikely national rebirth. We’re also creating a toolkit for classrooms, book clubs, and leadership development courses for women worldwide.

I’m writing from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where we have 204 copies of Rising to hand-deliver to the courageous women we interviewed as well as other policymakers, young leaders, and civic activists. The book launch here has been orchestrated by Laura Heaton, an American journalist based in Nairobi, who was a skilled writing partner over the final four years of gestation. In five days I’ll be speaking nine times, with many smaller meetings in between.

At the first of those presentations, I addressed about 150 young women of The Akilah Institute – Rwanda’s first all-women’s college, where 55 percent of the women come from poor rural villages. The stories of what they endured/survived to be sitting under that tent were extraordinarily riveting.

This whole week is a watershed for me as a writer and activist. I’ll be saying more about that in the coming weeks, in blogs, interviews, and book presentations.

The first book launch discussion took place May 22 in Washington. The former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, joined me onstage. Unexpectedly, she recalled her terrible days in Rwanda at the start of the genocide.

Once again, this book is not just – or even primarily – about Rwanda, or even Africa. It’s an encouraging primer for governments and activists across the globe who are seeking greater prosperity – and stability – in their countries. I’ll say once again, that the United States of America is near the top of that list right now.