Rwandan pioneer inspires women
It was story time for more than 900 women gathered at a Waikiki hotel. They had come from around the state and the world to be inspired by speakers from as far away as Indonesia and Afghanistan during the fourth annual International Women's Leadership Conference.
"They are not just women's stories; they are human stories," Gov. Linda Lingle said Tuesday. "It doesn't matter where you started from. It doesn't matter where you came from. It matters where you're going. It matters where you end up."
Take Justine Rukeba Mbabazi.
Mbabazi spent her early years with her nomadic Rwandan family. For her elementary education, she used a single sheet of paper, under a tree. She would do her lesson one day, then erase it to make room for the next day's class.
Eventually, Mbabazi received her law degree abroad and returned to Rwanda to work. She was there in 1994 when genocide took the lives of hundreds of thousands, including most of her family and her first husband.
"There is no time to grieve. There is no time to think about yourself. There is no time to be selfish," she said. "I thought I could not cry because there were so many people waiting for me to wipe their tears."
She has made it a mission to educate women to take leadership roles. Mbabazi is a gender expert and a senior legal adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan. She was a leader in the Rwandan reconstruction and now works as a mentor to female Afghan lawyers.
"Women are always taught to be sugar and spice and everything nice," Mbabazi said. "Men, on the other hand, are told that they own the world and they can do whatever they want with it. Indeed they do. It happened in Rwanda and Kosovo. I was in Kosovo, at the Hague, prosecuting the crimes against humanity. It's happening in Iraq and Darfur, and it's happening in Afghanistan, where I live and work right now."
She said it is a struggle for women to achieve equality in many areas of the world but that it is important. In Rwanda, women now hold nearly half the seats in parliament. Several important laws have been changed in recent years, including those dealing with domestic violence.
And in Afghanistan there are now about 150 female defense attorneys.