Friday, September 19, 2008

What America can learn from Rwanda

I met Mary Jean and Alouise Rutagwibera whilst living in Michigan some years ago. They were survivors of the Rwanda genocide. We spoke French together, often shared meals and our children became fast friends in our close knit neighborhood of "Anna's Vineyard."

The couple was uncharacteristically quiet, and finding out about their lives proved difficult. I am an inquisitive person by nature, and wanted to know all I could about what it would be like to live in another country.

After we built up a level of trust, Marie Jean shared with me a photo album of friends and family members. Page after page of beautiful images stared back at me. With tears in her eyes, Marie Jean explained that amost all of them had been killed in the genocide - how could this be, I wondered? I realized then, that the family had experienced atrocities that I could only dream of in my worst nightmares and that I should not ask questions, but rather be honored that such intimate details would even be shared with me - a casual friend of the family.

I just watched "Now" on PBS - the show was a one hour special tonight. I stayed up late to see it to its end - it focused on women in politics - apparently Chile has an amazing female president, one who was tortured under the Pinochet government, escaped, went to East Germany, became a physician, but returned to become minister of defense, before being asked to run for President. She is now El Presidente and has passed all manner of reforms for women, including safe havens for rape victims, working on equal pay for equal work, healthcare reform, preschool and a myriad of other reforms.

Similarly, the women of Rwanda comprise 41% of the government in Rwanda - after the genocide, the constitution was revised, mandating that no less than 30% of women should be in the government - they have superceded that number in droves. They are now setting about rebuilding the country, owning businesses, drafting legislation to protect women and yet here in America, we shut Hillary Clinton out.

Was she really the target of women hating men? Was that glass ceiling a little too close for comfort? Was Hillary really that much of a threat? She has shattered that ceiling for our daughters, grandaughters, and even some of us who hope to run for public office in years to come.

These women know a little about running for office, and winning.

I hope to see a woman president in my lifetime - I think I will. Oh - I did say president, NOT vice president, lest there be any confusion......

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