Category Archives: Women and Girls

Join Us for the #WaterAidNica Chat on March 21

This Sunday, Social Good Mom and Global Team of 200 member, Jennifer Barbour, will join WaterAid America on a trip to Nicaragua to see WaterAid’s WASH programs on the ground. Their itinerary is packed from Monday – Friday. While in Nicaragua Jennifer Barbour will be detailing all that she observes and how WASH programs benefit women and girls and entire communities. She will be updating her blog, Tumblog, and social media and using the #WaterAidNica hashtag.

We are excited to follow her journey and share her work. On Friday, March 21 from 1 – 2 PM EST we will join Jennifer and WaterAid America for a chat discussing Jennifer’s trip in Nicaragua. Join us on Friday, March 21. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. You can tweet them to us already at @socialgoodmoms using #WaterAidNica.


Gender and Education: A Look at an Afghan Teacher’s Life

This interview was conducted by and is courtesy of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team. Later this week we will be delving into the Education for All Global Monitoring Report Gender summary to bring out facts about girls and education across the globe.

We are happy to join UNESCO’s #TeacherTuesday campaign – a ten week journey around the world to get a glimpse of teaching from the voices of teachers themselves. The second honored teacher is Nahida, a teacher from Afghanistan. This is her story.

I’m Nahida and have been a teacher since 1989. It was my family’s desire for me to become a teacher when I graduated from Kabul University.

I wanted to work in the foreign Ministry but Afghanistan is a religious country and for woman it is difficult to go and work in the foreign ministry and be a diplomat in a foreign country so my family wanted me to start as a teacher and work with the children.  I continued teaching enthusiastically for my students for three years in a primary school for small children – boys and girls.

After that time, after three years, I became the headmistress, then head of a high school. After 12 years I was given the post of principal at the High School of Kabul. In Kabul city there are more female teachers [than in most areas].

The management in leading a school is a difficult task, especially in Afghanistan. On a normal day at 6 o’clock in the morning I go to school and start my job as a principal. My school works in two shifts – one shift for the morning, and one for the afternoon.  I line-up all of the students in my school, all female, and I say hello to all my students in the line.  All the students say hello to me then they sing the national anthem. And then recite the holy Koran.

After that I give a small speech for one or two or three minutes then the students, teachers and I direct the students to class. The lessons then start. Daily that’s my habit and usually I control two classes in each shift.  I also monitor the teaching process of teachers in their classes. Morning shift ends at 12 o’clock. Every shift is six lots of 45 minutes with two intervals.

My school is a standard school which is supported by the French government. In each class we have 35 students.  In Afghanistan, even in Kabul, in other schools it is standard to have up to 50-70 students in each class, but in my school it is standard only 30-55 students in each class.

I traveled to different countries like Japan, UK, Germany, South Korea, India and later to Pakistan for training. Only some teachers in Afghanistan study abroad. I am among a small number of teachers who has travelled a lot to other countries. The Education Ministry gave me the chance to go abroad and take workshops in education and management, teaching methods. I still receive training from the British Council who gives special training for those teaching in girls’ schools.

When I was principal of the high school, the Government of Germany gave training to the teachers in my school. Now my school is supported by the French government.

I participated in more than 60 workshops and seminars in Afghanistan about education administration, management, leadership.

I have 7 children that are all grown up now. All my children studied in a high school. My son is an engineer who graduated from university. Now he is studying in France for 40 days to improve his French language. That’s a good chance for my son.

In the last period of time when Mujahidin came to power, different portions of Mujahidin started fighting in Kabul and other provinces. Schools closed because of security, especially girls schools. Schools become a target for Mujahidin.  Slowly when stability came to Afghanistan and Kabul for me it was priority to encourage girls and their families to come back to school.

I gave the message to their families and asked them to send their daughters to school again.

Also I made a council of elder people and religious people, and gave a message to them to help my school. Also I gave a message to the mosque because you know in Afghanistan, mosques help with all these things to encourage families and parents to send and to attend the female students to schools.

Also I asked different NGOs to support us especially getting uniforms for the girls and school books, and to support orphans and poor students. All of it was to encourage the families of the female students to send them to school.

When the Taliban came to power, it was their policy to close all the schools for females. For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal of the school was a Mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter the school and asked me after that not to come to school.  But for the boys, school was open.  I was a teacher every day and I was sad for the girls. When I understood the policy of Taliban was not to allow girls and female teachers to go to school, I started a home school for girls because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters. Families trust me because I was a well-known teacher in my school. I decided to continue my job and my responsibility for my people and my female students especially to help them. It was a very strict time. Very difficult. I was afraid. The home school was very secret, not official. In one day there were three shifts, two classes of 25 girls.

It was a very difficult situation because the Taliban was very strict in their rules.

The Taliban thought I ran a class for the holy Koran – a religious class but I taught not only the holy Koran, but also all the subjects that were in school – the complete school curriculum. I did not receive any salary for this.

Today it has changed. When the Taliban fell and under Karzai, everything changed. Schools opened for the girls and boys. I was the first female teacher who went back to my school and organized my school.

When I went to my school I can explain you how, what the condition was. The school was completely destroyed. The buildings had no windows, no doors. The surrounding wall of the building of our school was destroyed.

Schools didn’t have any chairs, tables, blackboard, chalk, totally no school materials because the school was a Taliban location.

When I went to my school first I cleaned the classes with the help of my female teachers and my labour. I made the surrounding wall in mud and stones. Fortunately I had taken all of the documents of the school and they were saved with me in my home. Once again I gave messages to their families, parents, mosque and asked families to send their daughters for attend school.

The girls came back slowly, slowly. I encouraged families, asked their parents to school, encouraged them, talked with them.  Also I sent my female teachers to their homes. I announced it in different mosques. Female teachers started coming back to school and I started my teaching, and female teachers started teaching again.

The government and thanks to the support of the international community, thousands more schools were built not only in Kabul but in different provinces, and destroyed schools were rebuilt, equipped schools with chairs, tables, good chairs, good tables.

Also more than 47, 48 different countries which are involved now in Afghanistan to support different schools in the country, in many provinces.

Now in Afghanistan, war continues every day. Here there are suicide attacks, bombs. The insecurity, and instability, is a big challenge for families, for our people, especially for girls attending the schools. You know, Afghanistan is a special country with special rules that must be followed by girls and women. When they want to go to school their parents are afraid about the lack of security, because suicide attacks happens, there are bombs and bad events in the city, many female students don’t come to school. For me as a director of this school, I have organized special transportation for my students. It’s a good solution to prevent absenteeism of girls from school.

It’s a big problem. You know when a bomb explosion happens in a city, how will the morale be of the students, especially female students? After each bad event that happens in our country, it has a very bad impact on their morale.

When a suicide attack happens, families don’t allow their girls to go to school for one or two days. Also for boys, but especially for girls.

In girls school it’s the rule the teacher has to be female. In my school, which I direct, of the 105 teachers, only 2% are male.

I only need three more female teachers for next year in my school, but in all Afghanistan it’s the big challenge for education, especially in the provinces for the girls’ schools. You’re faced with difficulties and challenges because of the lack of female teachers. Day by day the number of girls decreases especially in the high grades classes like 10, 11 and 12.

In the provinces especially in the unstable provinces like the south of Afghanistan the lack of the female teachers causes schools difficulties. Only in the big cities – the capital – we have in school a high number of female teachers. The Government and also the Ministry of Education are planning to do more to educate and hire female teachers, but it is hard to send teachers to the provinces because of lack of security.

It’s Afghan tradition and our religion doesn’t allow female teachers to go without their husbands anywhere. In provinces it is possible to recruit female teachers locally but in unstable provinces, the government is faced with difficulties recruiting. But in a stable province and in Kabul, we don’t have any problem about the job of female teachers.

It’s also a big problem especially for all of Afghan students who have graduated from schools and university to get a job as there is a lack of jobs. This decreased the number of students.

I am a realistic person and optimistic about our future of education and learning programmes in Afghanistan. Now our people, after three decades of war, completely know about the importance of education. People and families work hard and get money and spend more for their children to learn English, computers, to go to school. In fact they spend more investing in their children to go to school – like stationary, uniform.

In Afghanistan now there is big competition between Afghan families of knowledge and learning.  The families are lucky if their children go to school, if they learn more, graduate from high school and university, because now they know when a boy or a girl graduates from university he will be able to work not only in government, but with foreign NGOs and get a good salary. Good salaries can bring big change, fundamental change in their life. Because of that I am optimistic about the future of education in our country. One thing that is more important is that the international community support the future of education through our Government. Educated people don’t take guns and don’t destroy their country and their schools.

[Photos] Honoring Women and Girls We’ve Met Around the World

Today on International Women’s Day we honor all of the women and girls we’ve met throughout our travels! Want to celebrate International Women’s Day in an impactful way? Read 4 Easy, But Impactful Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day.









4 Easy, But Impactful Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is today which means a lot of of chats, discussions, events (both online and offline) will be going on simultaneously around the world in honor of women.

International Women’s Day celebrations have already taken place and many more will certainly ring on throughout next week to honor women and girls around the world and call for more ways to empower and uplift them. In large part International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the giant strides women have accomplished even while realizing there is still a long way to go towards gender equality. Now that International Women’s Day is directly upon us you might wonder what you can do to celebrate simply, yet make an impact. Here are some ideas.

  1. Honor a Woman Making a Difference: Oxfam America is accepting 200 – 300 word essays about women in your life who are making a difference. By sharing your personal story about a phenomenal woman who is lighting the way for others you will bring attention to the ways in which women are changing the world for the better. Share your story and read others at
  2. Share Catapult’s “Cover Story” Campaign: We read and see glossies every day and that’s what has made Catapult’s Cover Story campaign that more powerful. Using the airbrushed aesthetics of a traditional magazine to tell the raw stories about child brides, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation of girls, Catapult’s Women’s Day campaign has effectively made people sit up and take notice about issues that often fail to move the mainstream. Buzzfeed called the campaign “jarring” and Design Taxi called it “visually arresting.” This International Women’s Day, you can share the campaign from Catapult’s Cover Story microsite and help open a few eyes about these worldwide issues that affect women and girls.
  3. Shine a Light on Women’s Success Stories: So often we talk about how far women and girls still have to go to gain an equal footing with men and boys that we forget to stop and celebrate success stories. Thankfully Pathfinder has taken the time to highlight success stories of women who live in middle and low-income countries. In their “Women Who Dare” campaign Pathfinder has shared success stories like Dorothy’s, a woman who lives in rural Ugandan and has five children yet she is only 22.  She now uses family planning and couldn’t be happier. Read all of the stories at And while you’re there be sure to take Pathfindder’s pledge to stand up for women and girls.
  4. Watch a Film in Honor of Women: For the entire month of March you can take part in the #SheDocs film festival where 12 extraordinary films about women and their accomplishments can be streamed online for free. Watch and share these documentaries widely. Check out all 12 documentaries at including the first documentary: Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth.

As lofty as this may sound the future of women and girls rests on our ability to continue talking about and educating others about gender-based inequality. Happy International Women’s Day.

Photo Courtesy of Plan International

Global Impact Launches Innovative Fund to Help Women and Girls

We are proud to support Global Impact with the launch of its Women & Girls Fund this week during International Women’s Day. Below, read more about how you can join Global Impact, CARE, World Vision, Plan USA and ICRW to help women and girls around the world. And be sure to join our conversation on Twitter this Friday, March 7 at 2 PM EST. RSVP at

This week marks a momentous occasion to celebrate women and girls and to continue to work tirelessly to make their lives better around the world. Saturday, March 8, is the annual International Women’s Day celebration where the world comes together to raise awareness about the global plight of women and girls.

Photo courtesy of PLAN

• Did you know that an estimated sixty percent of women have been physically or sexually abused?

• Did you know that women produce half of the world’s food, but own less than one percent of the world’s property?

• Did you know that each year, about 300,000 women suffer a preventable death during pregnancy and childbirth?

• Did you know that two-thirds of the children denied primary education are girls?

• Did you know women and girls make up ninety-eight percent of trafficking victims?

What Can We Really Do To Solve These Problems?

Global Impact, a world leader in international philanthropy, has partnered with four of the best-in-the- business charities, CARE, World Vision, Plan, and the International Center for Research on Women, to raise awareness about these issues and to raise funds to help women and girls gain safer, healthier, more prosperous lives. Global Impact has brought these leading organizations together under one fund so that people passionate about helping women and girls can help the work of all four charities by giving in one place.

Photo Courtesy of CARE
Photo Courtesy of CARE

The Fund is one of the most effective ways to support programs that help women and girls. Through this fund, you will join a movement with millions of people to change the world by helping to provide education, protection and rehabilitation from violence and exploitation, job training, healthcare, safe drinking water and a host of other services to women and girls around the world.

Your contributions go directly to supporting real and meaningful work to improve the lives of women and girls. By investing in a girl, she can lift herself out of poverty and abuse, altering the condition of her family, her community and, ultimately, the world.

Visit to donate any amount to help women and girls and to learn more about the Global Impact Women & Girls Fund.

Social Good Moms Member Chosen for WaterAid Insight Trip

Jennifer Barbour Nica
One of the main goals of starting Mom Bloggers for Social Good two years ago was to provide key opportunities for members to travel to see the work of our partners on the ground. For me, seeing the work I write about around the world has been immensely instrumental to learn and become a better advocate for programs that work and share issues that need to be better delved into. Last year three Social Good Moms members saw our partners’ work on the ground: in Delhi, India (Nicole Melancon), Johannesburg, South Africa, and in Indonesia (Stacey Weckstein). Today I am proud to announce the fourth Social Good Mom who will travel on an insight trip.

Jennifer Barbour who writes at Another Jennifer and who is a tireless member of both the Social Good Moms and the Global Team of 200 will travel to Nicaragua with our partner WaterAid to see their water and sanitation programs in one of the poorest countries in the world. The trip will be held March 16 – March 23, 2014 and corresponds with World Water Day which is held annually on March 22. You can follow the trip at #WaterAidNica.

“I am honored to be accompanying WaterAid America on this insight trip to Nicaragua on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good. Having worked with WaterAid America in the past and being a current donor, I look forward to seeing their work on the ground and talking with those who have benefitted from access to safer water and improved sanitation.” – Jennifer Barbour

We are excited to work closely with WaterAid America to spread the word about their Nicaragua programs and are honored that they have chosen one of our members to travel on their very first blogger trip.

“When it comes to beating the global water crisis, the Mom Bloggers for Social Good are a powerful voice for change. We are delighted to team up with them for this, WaterAid’s first blogger insight trip”, commented WaterAid Media & Communications Officer, Alanna Imbach.

“What we see in Nicaragua is a telling example of how smart investments around safe water and toilets can drive entrepreneurship, empower women and improve the health and wellbeing of entire communities. For anyone interested in getting to know the changemakers that are breaking down barriers and creating a future in which clean water and toilets are an accessible reality for everyone in their community, you’re not going to want to miss this trip.”

How to Follow Jennifer’s and WaterAid’s Journey

Read WaterAid’s and Jennifer Barbour’s trip announcements

Upcoming Events to Add to Your Social Good Calendar

Over the course of the next month or so we will be working with major NGOs to spread the word about new reports and critical days commemorating important causes and issues. Mark your calendars for these causes.

Tuesday, February 25

  • We will be working with Save the Children to spread the word about its brand-new newborn health report during a 24-hour carnival.
  • #TeacherTuesday launches with UNESCO on this day. We are joining nine other global voices to share inspirational teachers around the world for ten weeks. Read more.
  • #TeacherTuesday Twitter chat with the first featured teacher will take place at 12 PM GMT. Join with the #TeacherTuesday hashtag.

Thursday, February 27 from 12:00 – 1:30 PM EST

  • Investing in Women and Girls: Finding solutions in water, sanitation and hygiene, featuring H&M Conscious Foundation and Procter & Gamble. WaterAid will be standing by, too, to answer any questions that people might have about the work that we are gearing up to do together. RSVP by February 25 at

Friday, February 28

  • This day marks the last day to comment on the Every Newborn Action Plan. Add your comments by this Friday.

Friday, March 7 from 2 – 3 PM EST

Saturday, March 22

  • We will be partnering with WaterAid America on a big day of World Water Day online discussions. Stay tuned for more as the day approaches.

Maternal Mortality in the US: The Numbers May Surprise You

When we talk about sky-high maternal mortality rates we tend to look more closely at low-income countries like Afghanistan, Chad and Somalia that have the world’s highest maternal mortality rates in the world according to the World Bank. And, of course, sub-Saharan African countries need to desperately bring their numbers down. But when you look at rich, developed countries the United States has the highest maternal mortality rates among them and the rates are not declining. In fact, maternal mortality rates in the United States have doubled over the past 25 years. African-American women are 3x more likely to die during childbirth in the United States. And, Caucasian women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in 24 other industrialized countries. 21 mothers die per 100,000 live births in the United States. Compare that to Greece (3), Finland (5), and even the United Kingdom (12) deaths per 100,000 live births.

This year as we report on maternal mortality we will also include the United States in our news reporting because the numbers are high, increasing, and are baffling researchers and doctors. They do not know concretely what is causing the doubled maternal mortality ratios although they suspect obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, health care disparities, and older mothers may be causing the steady spike in numbers in the United States.

According to Amnesty International the five main reasons women die in childbirth in the United States are:

  1. Embolism 20% – A blood clot that blocks an essential blood vessel, for example in the lungs
  2. Hemorrhage 17% – Severe blood loss
  3. Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia 16% – Disorders associated with excessively high blood pressure
  4. Infection 13%
  5. Cardiomyopathy 8% – Heart muscle disease

And, according to Merck for Mothers, a woman nearly dies in childbirth every two minutes, that is more than 50,000 women annually. See infographic. Around 650 women die during childbirth or shortly thereafter based on numbers from the CDC.

UNited States

As we continue to report on maternal mortality around the world where the rates are in the hundreds per 100,000 we will not forget about the mothers who are also dying here in the United States, a country that spends the most in the world on health care.

Photo: Fotolio

One Bangladeshi Mother’s Thoughts on Arranged Marriage

Shahana Shafiuddin is a Social Good Mom from Bangladesh. Read her blog at

In our country there are two kinds of marriages: one is settled marriage and another one is love marriage. Settled marriage means, where guardians select bride or groom for a person and the marriage happens. As far as I have seen, most of the people like, or respect settled marriage. Well you won’t find it by surveying on blog because most of the Bangladeshi don’t know what a blog is. When any couple makes a love marriage (where couples choose each other), people will congratulate them, but behind them they will say what they actually feel, and off course, they are not good comments though everyone wants to marry a person who they like.

When a husband hurt a wife, everybody will dislike it but won’t react, because they think its natural or a common thing. If a woman tries to hit back, nobody will like that and will make an issue. But nobody wants to be beaten.


Everybody wants their husband to  help them in their work. But if she saw any other husband helping their wife, she will say, it’s not good and many more things. And rest of the society will agree with her.

Every woman will like to take enough rest and do all work in her own way. But she will never let other woman (bride of her son) do her work in her own choice. People think that is bad and our society will never agree with the bride.

Why are our thoughts like that? Why can’t we be fair with all humans?

This post has been edited for clarity. Read the original post, Why We Think Like That?

Photos courtesy of Shahana Shafiuddin.

Rwanda Leads the World in Women Lawmakers

By Elaine Tucci
Elaine Tucci is the Co-Founder and CEO of Women Lead to Change

In Rwanda and a few other African countries, improvements in care for expectant mothers and newborns are allowing many more to survive and remain healthy. UN Photo

As the world learns more about the promise of women to bring peace, prosperity and economic well-being to nations, Rwanda has become a poster child of this promise. Thriving after one of the most brutal genocides in history, today Rwanda is referred to as the heart of the African Renaissance.

In September’s elections Rwandans once again voted in a female majority parliament, directly electing 26 women in addition to the 24 seats reserved for females in the constitution. Rwanda has come to be the world’s leader in women lawmakers holding an unprecedented 64 percent of seats in Rwanda’s parliament, more than any another country in the world. Women also occupy some of the most important government ministries, holding approximately one third of all cabinet positions.

As a result, life is changing fast for women in Rwanda and these investments in women will have a ripple effect that will improve life for their families, communities and the country as a whole. To begin a list of astounding accomplishments, the small African nation has cut poverty by 12% in six years, from 57% of its population to 45%. This is roughly one million Rwandans emerging from poverty, most of them women and children — one of the most stunning drops in the world.

Paul Collier, director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University notes that Rwanda can be compared to an East Asian-style “developmental state,” where the government is very serious about growing the economy. “The economy was well managed, with inflation kept low, and the business environment improved.” As a result, over the course of six years Rwanda has moved from around 140th to 60th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” annual rating.

Some changes in Rwanda are obvious to the eye, such as houses that have tin roofs instead of thatch. A decent roof is one of the first changes people make when they start the ascent out of poverty. Some of the changes are psychological. There is a sense and a hope that things really can improve, and a sense that individual families can do something to better their circumstances.

Josh Ruxin, director of Rwanda Works has lived with his family in Rwanda since 2005. He notes the amazing infrastructure and economic development improvements he has witnessed. “Five years ago, traveling anywhere in the country was bound to be a bumpy ride, if the way was even passable. Today, east-to-west and north-to-south, the road infrastructure is impressive and continues to expand. Five years ago, the country struggled to get tourists in for $375 permits to visit Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. Today, during high season, there are not enough $500 tickets to meet the demand. Five years ago, there were no supermarkets or ATMs, and the cheapest cell phones cost $50. Today there are multiple supermarkets, over a dozen international ATMs, and cell phones that cost $14 are plentiful.”

Ruxin notes that access to formerly inconsistent electricity and running water even for those who could pay for it, is being constantly improved. Hotels and restaurants are popping up everywhere and a service sector is emerging to meet heightened tourism demand. Wireless broadband is being installed across the country and more universities, technical schools, and preschools are opening. The second national language has shifted from French to English.

A Dedicated Focus on Health Outcomes and Family Planning

A young woman with her baby outside the Muhura health post. Photo: Didier Habimana
A young woman with her baby outside the Muhura health post.
Photo: Didier Habimana

To accomplish the stunning drop in poverty major investments were made in the rural poor and extensive improvements were made in health programs and outcomes. Collier notes that “most of the achievement is likely due to domestic policies.”

At a summit to review the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Rwanda was commended for its very likely success in meeting and possibly even surpassing the MDG targets for child and maternal mortality by 2015. According to officials at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which provides contraceptives and other support to rural communities, Rwanda has literally brought its health care system back to life. The government has initiated bold reforms and innovative approaches to make health care accessible and affordable for everyone, with a strong emphasis on reproductive health, including family planning.

Much of the credit for successes goes to the government’s successful health insurance program. Its removal of user fees for family planning services has contributed to significant increases in use of services. There has been a jump from 9% to 26% of contraceptive prevalence among married women aged 15-49, and the skilled birth attendance rate increased from 39% to 52%.

“This a real achievement,” says Asha Mohamud, a reproductive health advisor for UNFPA. “It often takes decades for countries to see this kind of change.”

The Mayange Health Centre is located in the heart of the Bugesera district, just south of the capital city of Kigali. Built in 1999, the clinic serves 25,000 people. Until early 2006, it saw only 5 to 10 patients a day. Nurses were rarely in attendance and pharmaceuticals were not available. Lights had been installed in the facility but there was no electricity to power them. With the new investments in the government’s health insurance program the center has rapidly transformed into a model for the nation.

Enrollment in the clinics programs has grown quickly, and the number of patients has skyrocketed to more than 150 each day. Those enrolled pay an annual premium equivalent to 2 US dollars and women who keep four appointments during a pregnancy can deliver at no cost. Staff training and infrastructure improvements have significantly enhanced services, and now the lights are turned on permanently.

Other major changes include new equipment and more staff to contribute to safe and hygienic births. The clinic used to only have three trained nurses and most mothers were still giving birth at home. Now it has eighteen nurses available and most of the mothers in the area now give birth at the health center. Life expectancy for the babies has improved as well and mothers are educated to stay for three days after delivery to ensure the health of their newborn.

The initial results of these health investments in Rwanda are impressive. Child mortality has decreased by over 30% since 2005 and maternal mortality declined by 25 % in the years up to 2005. There has been a decline in the fertility rate from 6.1 to 5.5 children per woman, and achievement of immunization rates of 95% were attained by 2008.

The Need for More Progress

These new achievements will have notable effects on the population as a whole as the country grows, but even more progress is needed. The land in Rwanda is already intensively settled, and the hillsides densely cultivated with bananas, coffee and vegetables. With approximately 368 people per square kilometer, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. And because of its terrain — the country is known as the land of a thousand hills – that means that not all of the land is arable. And with two thirds of its population under the age of 25, dropping fertility rates are good news. The dramatic expansion of family planning that is taking place and the growing desire for smaller families will be a key feature to managing future growth.

There is still much to done, however. For example, women in the rural Muhura area still bear an average of six children or more. Until recently, they had little choice in the matter. According to representatives from UNFPA, the nearest health clinic, like about 60% of the health services in Rwanda, is run by the Catholic Church. The only contraceptive devices offered there are cycle beads, a refinement of the rhythm method. Transportation to these rural health posts is problematic as busses pass through town only a couple of times a week, and there are no private cars. An “ambulance” is traditionally four men carrying someone in a hammock dozens of kilometers or more over hilly rutted roads to the nearest hospital.

But thanks to new investments from the government today women can be referred to new secondary health posts, where family planning counseling and contraceptives are available free of charge. In Muhura for example, the Health Ministry converted an empty building into a secondary health post that offers family planning information and services three days a week. 65 secondary rural health posts have already been established throughout the country, and 21 more centers are planned.

Once the health post opened, women began coming, first in a trickle, then in droves. “Now we see about 50 women a day,” said the nurse who runs the rural post program in Muhura.
Rwandan women have not always been so accepting of family planning. Traditionally, having children has been a source of respect and pride and rumors and misconceptions about contraceptives, and fear of side effects were common. But According to UNFPA officials a massive effort is underway to educate Rwandan communities, both men and women, about the value of smaller families. The government is very conscious of demographic trends, said Cheik Falls, the UNFPA deputy representative in the country. “They know that they have a special country because of the all the hills. If the demographic aspects are not mastered, it will jeopardize development efforts.”

As a result of this growing awareness attitudes are changing and the desire for smaller families is increasing. At a meeting in Muhura hosted by UNFPA, officials noted that when local women were asked, “How many have more than five children?” dozens of women raised their hands.

And when asked “How many are done having children?” almost all of the hands went up. According to DHS data, only 7 % of married women in Rwanda want to have another child soon.

“I want to raise the three children I have properly and pay for their education,” says a 28-year-old mother. “When you have a lot of children you will remain poor.”

Now that contraception has been made more widely available, women who want to stop having babies but whose husbands object are told it is their right to choose. Some even go to these rural health posts in secret for three-monthly injections.

These secondary health posts are attracting clients and interest in modern contraceptive methods, says Daphrose Nyirasafali, a reproductive health and rights officer with UNFPA Rwanda. “The government and its partners are optimistic this strategy will boost the adoption of modern family planning methods, resulting in a more manageable fertility rate and sustainable development.”

Changing Laws are Changing Perceptions

Clearly, what is happening in Rwanda is little short of revolutionary.
“There used to be a lot of rapes, wife beating, male domination of women, boys sent to school and not girls,” said Nyirasafali. “That has all changed, even in the countryside.” Rape is now acknowledged as a very serious offense and there is a free police hotline and heavy jail sentences for perpetrators. The legislature has also passed bills aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, although these issues remain a vexing issue for the country.

Rwandan women now have the right to own land and property and when they marry they may choose to combine their assets with their husband or they can keep them separate. Inheritance laws have been passed to split a man’s property equally between his wife and both female and male children. As a result the divorce rate is increasing.

A legislative committee has combed through the countries legal code and has compiled a list of laws to modify or toss out altogether to put an end to gender discrimination, including one that requires a woman to get her husband’s signature to receive a bank loan.

New social norms are also unfolding. Traditionally in Rwanda men and women operated in separate spheres and played different roles, said Juliana Kantengwa, a member of Rwanda’s senate. “There were no-go areas, like drumming,” she said, that were male only preserves. During opening ceremonies, we now have teams of girls drumming with strength, enthusiasm and skill. “We (now) see fathers encouraging their daughters to do engineering and get out of nursing. (And) we have quite a number in the army and police force.” Women are driving the economy — working on construction sites, in factories and as truck and taxi drivers.
Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, and one of eight female ministers, said no one should view Rwanda’s women parliamentarians as “window dressing”. “We have a lot of influence,” Mushikiwabo said. “The president is present most of the time in our cabinet meetings. He encourages us to think out of the box and initiate policy. It’s a very open forum. That’s where all the major decisions for the country are made.”

Having a female majority voice can certainly change priorities. “The fact that we are so many has made it possible for men to listen to our views,” said lawmaker Espérance Mwiza. “Now that we’re a majority, we can do even more.”

Rwanda’s progress for women is being admired around the globe. The government convened an international forum on the role of leadership in gender equality and woman’s empowerment, attracting women ministers, MPs and dignitaries from all over Africa and the world, including the UN deputy secretary general from Tanzania, Asha-Rose Migiro. “I salute you for bringing gender and equality to the heart of the political process,” she told the forum in the Rwandan parliament.

So what is next for this African Renaissance? The government has now set its sights on getting the country to middle-income levels. Growth so far has come primarily from improving existing systems and services. Collier says that to reach middle income, “Rwanda needs pioneer investors and aid to support them with public infrastructure; I hope that it gets them. If it does, then, yes, poverty can continue to fall fast.”

Rwanda’s astounding achievements are welcome news on a continent where overall progress towards these goals has barely registered. They demonstrate what is possible when political will and innovative policy meet the promise of women in leadership.