The personal mastery of Virginie
Virginie at first appeared too quiet and a bit un-involved for a person picked to represent her organization in the Rwandan version of feminist leadership training under the ACE Program.
But her quietness could be attributed to the fact that she only had a smattering knowledge of English to fully feel involved. However, this was no deterrence to her participation. She requested to express herself in Kinyarwanda as the training began, while eager colleagues were on hand to translate the proceedings which were conducted in English.
One of the hall marks of the leadership training involves personal mastery, which has to begin with self discovery. It is anchored on the notion that understanding oneself can lead to personal growth by being able to face yourself for who you are and aspire to become. This is by building on your strengths and improving on your weaknesses for personal transformation.
It was during the sessions in personal mastery that, in facing herself by narrating the situation that characterized her life, Virginie defined one of the most poignant moments of the workshop.
Every woman has her story. Yet, hers was many women’s story; the story of abuse and dis-empowerment across Africa and the world that makes it a universal women’s issue. Virginie encapsulated this when she broke down in tears recounting the emotional violence she has experienced in her own home.
By virtue of only being able to express herself in Kinyarwanda, she was in many ways symbolic of the situation of the Rwandan woman and the oppressive patriarchal structures she has had to endure in her socio-cultural milieu. She demonstrated not only her frustrations in personal empowerment, but the frustrations most Rwanda women must face in the existing barriers to effective leadership and personal advancement that continue to be entrenched in cultural norms and are perpetuated patriarchal hierarchies. Traditional social and gender norms continue to perceive women as inferior, while there is limited awareness on human rights.
Yet, Virginie is an accomplished leader, despite the abuse and humiliation she suffered in her domestic situation.
“I am the leader of the ruling political party in my community, as well as the leader of my women’s group and, among others, of the parents’ forum at my children’s school,” she had explained without seeming to quite appreciate the personal achievement.
The irony was that this was yet another exemplification of Rwandan women and their leadership potential despite having to contend with patriarchal structures that tend to keep them down, paradoxically in a policy climate and political will that champions women.
But the moral of Virginie’s story was that, like most of the participants at the workshop, she was not aware of herself as a leader, as if it was a favor, and appeared to have resigned herself to her fate in her colleagues’ vote and realization of her potential to thrust her on the pedestal to lead them.
The feminist leadership training was about unlocking the leadership potential by making it obvious that it is inherent in women to be effective leaders and claim their right as such in defiance of the patriarchal hierarchies.
By the end of the workshop Virginie was a changed and empowered woman. For one who could only express herself in Kinyarwanda, she vowed to express herself in English henceforth. Speaking in English symbolized her empowerment to overcome any of her life’s hurdles; she demonstrated how “the personal is political” in learning to assert one’s rights through self awareness and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to build on our strengths in our various socio-cultural and political contexts towards our individual and collective empowerment.
Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.