Archive for the ‘gender equality’ Category


Since Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center, it has had no shortage of female researchers.  In fact, both the previous director of Karisoke Liz Williamson and the present one Katie Fawcett are women. However, it is not common to find a Rwandan woman researcher.  While the Rwandan government is amazingly gender neutral, it is a fairly recent development.  While the Gorilla Research Program’s manager is a woman, the program can only boast one Rwandan female on the team: Theodette Gatesire who is the data entry assistant.  Together we are visiting the famous woman researcher’s grave.


In 2005, Theodette came to Karisoke to study the behaviour of lone silverback gorillas. Studying these gorillas is no easy feat; one must track long distances to follow the gorillas and over steep terrain.  “When I tracked silverbacks, I had to walk a lot and go very fast to keep up with the gorillas.  I have no problems with the forest,” she says.   After finishing her memoirs, she went to work for the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks as a guide.  While she enjoyed showing tourists through the park, she left half a year later to return to Karisoke as the data entry assistant.  When she got pregnant, she thought her career at Karisoke was over and was greatly surprised when she got a call asking if she was strong enough to return to work. “I can try!” was her response.  At first she asked to only work three days a week with a maximum of five to six hours per week.  When she was told she was allowed to bring her baby in to work, she returned to her full schedule with seven hours a day.


The trek up the volcanoes is long and arduous.  Despite having travelled this trail many times before, Theodette and Fidel Uwimana, the field data coordinator, go at a pace that will not completely wear me out.  Fidel knows this site especially well because he worked and lived in one of the cabins here for Dian Fossey herself.  When we come across a skeleton frame of a building, Fidel explains with a smile that this is where he once lived.


On our way back from the park, we discussed the status of women.  “The women in Africa are very strong because it is them who do the work in the field, fetch the water and the hard labour.  They can have a baby on their back, go fetch water and take care of the home,” she says, “You rarely see a man taking care of a baby or cooking.”  Suddenly our driver, Jean-Bosco, pipes in “there are few who help their wives.” He points out that he especially helps out when his wife is sick.  “Most men call in another female relative when their wives are sick,” he says.  Jean-Bosco is from a younger generation; Theodette thinks that with the next generation it will be even more equal.


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Now it’s hard to not have preconceptions about a country you hear so much about in the news.  For a country emerging from one of the most devastating events of the 20th century, you’d never expect the degree of normalcy that Rwanda gives off.  Now it’s easy to say such things as a Muzungu; the brevity of my stay just simply does not allow me the ability to delve much deeper than the superficial appearance of things.  Rwanda has progressed leaps and bounds since the 90s. One of the things that I was most surprised to discover when coming to Rwanda is the degree of gender equality.  Now I’m not saying this as if it is good in comparison to other African countries; Rwanda has a requirement that 30% of its government be made up of females and the actual number is above that. This is something not even Canada or the United States has ever achieved.  Because women are now seen as being breadwinners, poor families see a reason in sending a girl to school.  “Before, parents did not want to have girls; they were only good for having kids and cultivating,” says Hakuzimana Marcelline who is the coordinator of the clinic program for Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, “Parents chose between kids to go to school and girls stayed home.”



Marcelline is one of the women who work at the Karisoke Research Center. She has worked as a nurse for 8 years and just started with DFGFI in May of 2008.  She trains other nurses and health animators on sanitation, nutrition and parasites.  Over sixty health animators go into the local population next to the Volcanoes National Park and check their health and talk to them about their living conditions.  Marcelline goes into the population as well and briefs people on toilets, washing hands, proper clothing and taking care of their bodies.




Today we are on the edge of the park in Bisate where we are going to see the water tank that was installed by the water and sanitation program of DFGFI.  The people who live next to the forest are the one with the most contact with gorillas. The need to ensure their health is a priority.  Because of the lack of clean water, parasites are common and it is Marcelline’s job is to make sure that anyone who is found with an infection be treated.



On the park frontier in Bisate, the well-off families have houses made of mud. The red mud that most houses are made from has to be shipped up by truck because the volcanic soil is too porous.  This can be a pricey endeavour so most houses are made of bamboo and covered in banana leaves.  When we arrive at the water tank there is a crowd gathered around the spout.  The dry season is just about to begin and I am aware that this crowd will be double the size once it does.   After walking around a bit, Marcelline pulls me over to show me something.  There has been a mischievous little one who has been defecating around the tank.  She gathers the kids together and gives them a small lecture on why it is so important to go in the latrine. “Parents have to teach their kids to protect themselves against parasites,” says Marcelline.



Marcelline is optimistic that the status of women will get even better with time. “For the moment, women are still low in society. There are not even many women who are nurses but now you see women in all different fields: there are women drivers, managers and politicians.”

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