The Role of Women Entrepreneurs in Rebuilding a Nation: the Rwandan Model
34 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2018 Last revised: 4 Sep 2019
Date Written: April 11, 2018
Twenty-five years ago, Rwanda experienced an unprecedented human rights atrocity. In just one hundred days in the spring and early summer of 1994, over 800,000 Rwandans were killed by their fellow countrymen and women. The dead totaled nearly eleven percent of the country’s population. What was horrifically unique about the Rwandan genocide was the number of citizen killers. These individuals used rudimentary means to slaughter their neighbors and fellow community members. Families, friendships, communities, and an entire country, were torn apart within the course of three months. And with a fifty percent drop in GDP in 1994, the country’s economy also was in shambles. After the genocide, the task of rebuilding community trust and economic stability was beyond daunting.
Amazingly, Rwanda now has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and has sustained peace since the genocide. Rwandan women played a key role in this remarkable turnaround because women have had an outsized impact on the reestablishment of the rule of law, particularly as it relates to adjudicating war crimes, and the creation of an inclusive legal regime that empowers them. The convergence of these two forces produced a fertile entrepreneurial environment, which helps women move out of poverty, improve the health and education outcomes of their families, and forge sustainable peace.
This Article contributes to the literature by analyzing the normative shifts within the country’s institutions, both pre- and post-genocide, and observes that the role of women in restructuring the institutions as a major factor in the success that Rwanda enjoys today. By prioritizing gender equality in the recreation of its legal and economic structures, Rwanda is able to leverage the talents and capabilities of its entire population, and provides a model that can be applied to a number of other countries.
This Article proceeds as follows. Part I details the historical underpinnings of the Rwanda genocide and humanitarian crisis. Part II addresses the efforts to establish the rule of law in the aftermath of such a tragedy and describes the novel use of an indigenous forum for conflict resolution, gacaca, and the impact that this type of judicial experiment had on women in particular. Part III analyzes how Rwanda created a legal environment that empowers women. Part IV analyzes how the combination of reestablishing the rule of law through gacaca and an empowering legal environment helped spark an economic rebirth within Rwanda, and promoted peace. While some details of Rwandan society post-genocide may be unique, this Part also outlines how the lessons from Rwanda can be applied more broadly and make a contribution to our understanding of how women influence peace, transitional justice, and entrepreneurship.
Keywords: Rwanda, Genocide, Entrepreneurship, Women, Transitional Justice, Peace, Decision-Making
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation