Seventh-day Adventist women hold “untapped potential” to impact their communities, Rwanda’s first lady said at the church’s International Women’s Congress near Butare this week.
“It is one thing to have [potential], and another to maximize it,” First Lady Jeannette Kagame said. “I want you to think about what you are going to leave behind for the next generation.”
Kagame was in Huye District to open the congress and a nearby exhibition showcasing women’s achievements, according to The New Times. The five-day congress, held for the first time in Rwanda, drew 1,500 women delegates from 11 countries in the Adventist Church’s East-Central Africa Division.
The congress has previously been held in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, among other countries.
The congresses are meant to encourage women to bring positive change to their communities, organizers said. Delegates discuss challenges facing women, including gender-based violence and obstacles to socio-economic development. Speakers address emotional intelligence and offer tips on living a purposeful life.
In Rwandan culture, women are considered the heart of the home, Kagame said. “We nurture, inspire and encourage those around us and, whether we realize it or not, we set the foundation for character building. Society expects a lot from us as wives, mothers, sisters, professionals and individuals,” she said.
Kagame also acknowledged the increasingly complex role that women play in Rwandan society. “We have to compete with men out there in the workforce, and at the same time assume our roles in the home,” she said.
An exhibition running alongside the congress displays homemade food, new technology, clothing and interior design items.
Esron Byiringiro, president of the Adventist Church’s Rwandan Union Mission, said Rwanda was chosen to host the congress because the country is a strong advocate of women’s empowerment and gender equality.
“We expect that by the time these women leave, there will be a difference. They will leave with a lot of valuable lessons,” Byiringiro told The New Times.
The principle of gender equity and equality is enshrined in the Constitution, which guarantees a minimum of 30 percent of leadership positions to women. In some cases, the threshold has been significantly surpassed.
At 56 percent of Members of Parliament, women occupy a majority of seats in the House. And the country’s laws protect women’s rights to equal opportunity for employment, inheritance and land tenure.
Esperence Ngagi Murerabana, the Rwanda Union Adventist Women Ministries director, said because Rwanda understands the notion of gender equity and equality, it has allowed women to be actively involved in the efforts toward socio-economic transformation.
“That has allowed us to be self-confident,” Murerabana said. "Last time I attended a meeting in a certain country and everyone was surprised because I was the sole woman among the 11 leaders in attendance. They asked me how, as a woman, I could lead. But I told them my country has put in place policies that allowed me to discover my strengths and abilities.”
There are nearly 550,000 Adventist in Rwanda, which has a population of some 12 million.