“Education is For All—Boys and Girls”
There’s an old saying in Kinyarwanda that goes, “Impamyabumenyi y’umugore ni umugabo we.” When translated, it means “a wife’s degree is her husband,” or that a girl doesn’t need an education; she only needs to be married. Many people can hear this saying from the outside and recognize that it is outdated and false, yet the ideas reflected in its words are still deeply ingrained into some Rwandan mindsets.
While this sentiment still rings true among some communities in Rwanda, we had the privilege of connecting with Pierre, President of the Bihungwe School General Assembly Committee (SGAC). He is blazing a trail towards female empowerment and equity in the school community.
When we first heard from Pierre back in August, he told us that because of Wellspring training, he “now understand[s] the importance of education for both girls and boys. In our area, girls were less schooled. They were not allowed to attend school. When I started sensitizing the parents whose daughters were not going to school, I realized that education is for all—boys and girls.” To celebrate International Day of the Girl, we followed up with Pierre to hear how this transformation took shape and how they now celebrate the value and potential of their girls.
Breaking Through Deep-Seated Beliefs
In many communities across Rwanda, the scales are tipped vastly in favour of men, sons, and boys. Parents will often send their sons to school instead of their daughters. Pierre shared the truth of this sentiment in his community. His community believed that a girl would take the education and wealth she gained from her schooling and steal it away for her family-in-law when she gets married. Educating girls is seen as a waste because parents think it will not benefit them. In fact, Pierre shared just how deeply ingrained this way of thinking is within his community, “the mindset we had about girls was that their role in society is to give birth to children…, and [that] doesn’t require any educational background.”
Quality Education Is For Boys And Girls
In 2018, when Wellspring began working in Rubavu District—where Bihungwe School is—making boys’ education a priority remained the dominant mindset, with girls’ education often an afterthought. Partnering with schools and their surrounding communities, trainers began walking with school leaders, teachers, and parents to better the quality of education across the District. One of these schools was Bihungwe, and one of these parents was Pierre.
After experiencing Wellspring training in the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and Gender for Parents modules, Pierre shared that he began “understanding gender equity and gender equality. I understood that a bright future of any individual depends on the education he or she receives, regardless of gender. The training I received highlighted the importance of reflecting on the traditional cultural perceptions about gender and understanding how those perceptions are impacting our communities.”
Equipped in training on ABCD and having his eyes opened to the problem of gender inequality, he realized that as President of the SGAC, he could teach his neighbours about the power of girls’ education. “I found it important to share with other parents what I benefited from Wellspring. I shared during different community meetings either at the school or village level and also visited each household in the community, especially those who were so slow to understand and those enclosed in the traditional mindset,” shares Pierre.
In the beginning, the parents’ response was not positive: “There was a kind of resistance with some parents. Many parents had deep-rooted cultural beliefs, norms, and ideas that made it challenging for them to hear something different”.
Making Great Strides Towards Gender Equality
With Pierre leading the way towards greater female empowerment and the support of Wellspring training, the mindset change of the Bihungwe School community from 2018 to now has been astounding: “The positive response came progressively. Change came over time, and the change is visible. We see both families and the school community look at education differently than they did before. There is a total transformation. Parents are now sending girls to school as they have realized that their first role is not having babies. We see both boys and girls receiving a higher level of education, even completing their university studies. Parents now understand that what a boy can do, a girl can do too!”
As a father of three girls, Pierre shared with us how Wellspring training has changed his dreams for his family: “I have three daughters. The eldest is in secondary school (Senior 6), the middle is in Senior 3, and the youngest is in Primary 6. I am committed to doing my best for them to complete their studies, and I believe that education is key to success and a bright future for us in Rwanda. My eldest daughter dreams of being a doctor. I will support her in her dreams.”
All Girls Should Be In School—So Let’s Get Them There
At Bihungwe, the old way of thinking about a female’s worth is retreating into the shadows as girls step into the spotlight and demonstrate their skills, talents, and dedication. But there’s still a long way to go. Pierre shared with us, “We are happy that we are not where we used to be, but we are not where we want to be as a community. Our hope is that every parent in our community will value education for both boys and girls.”
On International Day of the Girl, will you partner with us to see mindsets transformed and every girl in Bihungwe’s school community empowered?