The Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (rwamrec.org/) and Rwanda MenEngage Network, along with MenEngage Alliance, are hosts of Ubuntu. Ubuntu attendees from around the world gathered virtually—with a small in-person contingent in Rwanda. A large number of youth have been intimately involved in the symposium, addressing topics including human rights, women’s rights, gender-based violence, LGBTIQA+, sexual reproductive health and rights), and related gender and social justice topics impacting women’s and girl’s empowerment. Aisha Uwase reports on the growing role of youth in the gender justice movement.
In our role as the Ubuntu symposium’s host country, among other responsibilities, Rwanda conducted mobilization campaigns for young people—called “Ubuntu: Youth Power in Equality.” Constituencies included university students, actors, and entrepreneurs. Among the topics they exchanged ideas about were sexual/reproductive health and rights. David Mberingabo, a university student, said the symposium helped him to understand his rights in the community as well as his role in contributing to building a nonviolent society. “It is time for an Ubuntu ‘giveback,’ he said, “because we all should know that our existence and our development is based on each other.”
Under the interconnected themes of “Power With, Transformation, Accountability, Intersectionality, and Feminisms,” the symposium was a crucial moment for young people to reflect on the role of men and boys in advancing gender equality, women’s rights and human rights, and provided space for young people to discuss both their potential and the challenges they face in promoting gender and rights issues.
Olivier Sindambiwe, a gender equality researcher and university lecturer, shared how the symposium provided him with ways to incorporate the concept of “power with” into his lectures and to engage male students to advocate for transformative approaches to how power is exercised. He promotes methods and strategies to subvert stereotypical male gender roles and hegemonic expressions of manhood. In addition, he supports advancing nonviolent, equitable and inclusive notions of manhood by changing social norms that shape boys’ and men’s behavior within Rwandan society. For Sindambiwe, the concept of “power with” has the potential to eradicate existing gender inequalities.
Youth leadership is underrepresented in Africa in promoting gender equality because, it is believed, youth see gender equity not only as the older generations’ “issue” but also because African society doesn’t support young people having safe spaces to express themselves. Abel Koka, a young participant from Tanzania, believes African culture offers a clue to why there is not much active youth participation. “It all starts from the family level, where our traditions could not allow young people to actively contribute in family decisions, to the community level, where we are often excluded due to alleged lack of experience, leading to a lack of trust in young people exercising their leadership talents….”
Marie Yvette Nyiransabimana, who works with Citizen Voice and Action, a Rwandan grassroots organization, portrayed youth leadership as possible and achievable when those efforts offer volunteer services that are recognized and their councils strengthened. Youth should be seen as important contributors to progress rather than as only passive beneficiaries of services. “Being young in age doesn’t always mean you can’t think big,” Marie Yvette said. “Age shouldn’t limit someone to be part of decision-making.”
The MenEngage Ubuntu symposium has opened the eyes of young people who recognize that they also belong in decision- making positions even if generational gaps still present a challenge. No one will raise young people’s voices except youth themselves. It has awakened the commitment to continue reminding each other of the principle, “Nothing about us without us.”
Gender inequality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate change, female genital mutilation, child marriage, indigenous rights, and faith-based approaches—all of these issues are affecting the world today. Young people believe that the time is now to both make sustainable change and challenge traditional norms. The Ubuntu symposium has been a powerful example and a safe space for young people to find and raise their voices. Together the world will know that we are ready. We can set the tone for our peers that it is our right and responsibility to contribute to the community’s wellbeing from the planning level all the way to the decision-making table.
Aisha Uwase is a Rwandan feminist who is passionate about youth raising their voices to promote gender equality. An Ubuntu symposium communication associate through both the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre and the Rwanda MenEngage Network, she is completing her studies in public relations at the Catholic Institute de Kabgayi.