With profound sadness, I want to pass on the news that our Rwandan friend and colleague Aloisea Inyumba died yesterday after an illness. Those who’ve spent time with her will share my personal grief at losing her calm, luminous incarnation of compassion and justice. As a visionary and an early member of the Women Waging Peace Network, Aloisea was integral in shaping this group that now includes 2,000 women leaders spanning the globe.
Her influence cannot be overstated. At age 26, as Rwanda’s first Minister of Gender and Social Affairs after the genocide, she helped design the burial of some 800,000 victims of the massacres. She devised a system to care for half a million orphans. “Each One Take One” was her motto as she urged every mother to add at least one more child to her family. Hutu women adopted Tutsi children and Tutsi women took home Hutu babies.
As head of the Commission for Unity and Reconciliation and as Governor of Kigali-Ngali Province, Aloisea went from village to village helping victims articulate their tragedies. Later she covered the country again, preparing for the reintegration of almost 100,000 perpetrators released from prison.
In the political sphere, she created five tiers of local to national women’s councils that indirectly fed into the parliament, resulting in the highest percentage of women legislators in the world, and making Rwanda the first country to break the 50% barrier for women’s participation. (The country stands at 56% now.) As Senator, she led efforts to enshrine women’s rights into the legal system.
The friendships and support of Women Waging Peace members meant a great deal to Aloisea. Several years ago, reflecting on her work with us, she told me, “I’d been speaking for years before—but it was when I came to the colloquium that I found my voice.” Accompanying her later to rural areas across Rwanda, I saw firsthand how she used her talents, inspiring village women to stand for office.
No individual has done more than Aloisea Inyumba to create space for women’s leadership, not simply in East Africa, but in her work with women worldwide.
Now, to honor her, it’s up to all of us to amplify her voice and sustain that work. As you reflect on her commitment to women’s leadership in peacebuilding, below are some of her own wise words.
Remarks by Aloisea Inyumba, 2002:
- In most conflicts, women are hurt most, so women understand most the importance of peace.
- There’s no way you can talk about development, about transformation of society, unless the biggest part of your population is involved.
- When people talk about changing a country, they’re talking about the beneficiaries. And who are the beneficiaries? The women. We can’t just have peace delivered to us on a plate; we have to be active participants. The message today in our country is this: women have to be agents of peace. Much as we want to benefit from this process, we also want to be a part of it.
- After the genocide, our Rwanda was destroyed. In the genocide we lost people. We lost infrastructure. We lost a nation. Reconciliation engages all of us at an institutional level, but more important, at a personal level. It’s like… it’s like delivering a baby, nourishing it to grow.
- So when we talk about reconciliation it’s a whole way of thinking and not just about the genocide. How do we live together? How do we make people coexist? How do we build institutions? How do we build mechanisms? How do we build a country based on the rule of law?
- We need to look into our history, to examine the political, economic, social, and cultural causes of our conflict, which we are trying to expose to the general public, the women, the youth in the schools.
- What’s important is to stick to our principles, be honest, be active, be articulate, be reliable.
- Women at the grassroots are a positive force. They need to be strong, and we need to listen to them. We were once there.