The BBC recently reported on a rather unique school curriculum in Rwanda, the Safe School for Girls in Kigali, which despite the name, is actually co-ed. Along with typical academic classes, every afternoon, the boys and girls split up to learn ways to try and improve the lives of women across the country. For girls, a lot of the subject matter is about financial independence and reproductive health, while boys are taught how to respect women in their lives and to report abuse.
“If we happen to see such violence, we report them and make sure the people who have [committed the violence] are judged,” Rini Mutijima, an 18-year-old at the school, tells the BBC. “For the girls who have this done to them, we make sure to support them, give them counseling and help them get back into society,” he says. In The MeToo era, the lessons of the school, run by The Care International charity, along with local non-profits, could be seen as an international blueprint. However, in many ways, it is uniquely Rwandan.
Part of this is due to the country’s deep history of violence and brutality against women, punctuated by the 1994 genocide. During the 100-day period of genocide, up to 500,000 women were raped along with 800,000 people killed. Even with this type of legacy, Rwanda has tried to move forward in recent years to become one of the most feminist countries in Africa. For example, more than 60% of representatives in its parliament are women, the highest percentage in any country, not just African countries. However, there is still a lot of work to be done at the household level. The U.N. estimates that 34% of Rwandan women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, compared to 25% of women in the U.S.
While the curriculum at this school bucks a lot of historical trends, students note that they are getting actionable advice. “We learn history,” says Patience Manzi, a 16-year-old boy. “We learn these things to know the past, and it helps us to prevent others from beating their wives.”
Shoffy Manishimure, another 16-year-old at the school, added: “The best thing I have learned to do is protect my sister.
“It’s my responsibility as a boy to protect my sister.” Similar programs in Rwanda among adult men showed a marked reduction of violence by men who participated against their partners.