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Fiona Hodgson, President of the Conservative Women’s Organisation, reflects on her part in the recent visit to Rwanda.

There are no accurate statistics of the Rwandan genocide but it is estimated that around one million people were killed in around one hundred days.  But the genocide also left many hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans.  Many of these will have seen their families brutally killed in front of them and are still suffering from the trauma fourteen years on.

Last year, on Project Umabano, I spent two weeks in Rwanda connecting with women at all levels of society.  Meeting women at grassroots level is very humbling.  Many of them have gone through experiences that could only be considered the stuff of nightmares and have been left with very little, if any, means of support.

There are many NGOs and organisations out here in Rwanda, trying to help these women who are the poorest of the poor.  By forming groups and training women in low-level counselling skills it enables them to support each other and find a collective voice.  They also train them in income generating initiatives.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to return to Rwanda on Project Umabano this year.  I was able to visit more of these organisations, such as the Rwandan Women’s Network, and to hear from them how this type of help has changed their lives.

Not only are the NGOs and charities helping – the Government has been proactive in helping these women too and during the last year has passed a Bill on Violence against Women to highlight this issue.

It is interesting that although from different cultures, women have the same problems.  In nearly every corner of the world women are still seeking economic and social equality and needing protection from violence.

However, there are lessons for us to learn here in Rwanda too.  One of the legacies of the genocide was that it gave women the opportunity to become politically empowered and today they lead the world by having more women in Parliament than any other country (incidentally, Britain trails behind, being ranked at number sixty).

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Other ConservativeHome reviews of Rwanda have been written by Timothy Barnes, Tobias Ellwood, Robert Halfon and Andrew Mitchell.  Also watch the five minute conservatives.tv video on the Rwanda trip.

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