On a rainy day earlier this month, Rwandan Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana and I arrived at the Library of Congress to talk about my newest book, Rwandan Women Rising. As we and our thoughtful audience explored how women became 64% of the Rwandan parliament, and the difference it has made, I reflected on how women from the base to the crest of that society have powered their country’s progress. As one of the leaders quoted in Rising said: “When women, with one voice, say, ‘We want things to change for the better,’ it’s possible. It’s possible.”
Our audience raised striking questions. In particular, one person observed the generosity of women of Rwanda. I’ve thought a lot about that. It seems a spirit of openness is something our country needs right now, as many events and individuals conspire to divide us. The tribes are well-defined: some women are relieved that their agendas are finally moving forward; others are active in resistance to the current administration; many others have checked out entirely.
I’m not one to hold back my opinions; on the other hand, I want to be respectful of people’s divergent ones. What does it mean to be faithful to both? That’s a question we’ll each answer on our own, but one thing I’m sure of: we should be raising it to ourselves, and not just clamming up, as if we’re intimidated by—or outright rejecting—other people at the table.
I think about how stunningly different the daily news would be if Hillary Clinton had been elected. As it is, I have a hard time even picking up a newspaper, unless it’s to gawk at a failure of Donald Trump. I’m not proud of that, but I know it’s a natural reaction. Putting myself into the generous mindset of the Rwandan women I interviewed, however, I redirect my thoughts toward the promise of a kinder culture, of finding unexplored common ground with other women, of looking for ways to encourage responsible leadership. If it’s possible for Rwandans to reconcile after 100 of the bloodiest days the world has seen, then I know it’s possible for us here in the US. It’s possible.