“International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their countries and communities”
Felicite Rwemarika was born in Rwanda, and she was forced to flee the country with her family due to the first massacre against the Tutsis in 1959. She stayed in Uganda until 1994, where she worked as a nurse. Founder and Executive Director of the Organization of Women in Sports (AKWOS), she is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 2018 and 1st Vice President of the Rwandan National Olympic Committee. She won an award for ASHOKA Fellow as a business and a social entrepreneur, and she has been a board member for the organization Women Win.
How does sport contribute to women’s empowerment – in Rwanda and globally?
In Rwanda, and globally, sport is a powerful tool to contribute to women’s empowerment. Sport can break down cultural and traditional barriers as it is a universal language. The promotion of women’s participation in sports encourages equitable gender roles, it prevents violence against women and children, and it increases the well-being of the entire community. Furthermore, the practice of sport makes women more confident, and it encourages them to participate in decision-making processes in their households, in their community, and to assume higher leadership positions. Sport changes societal attitude positively towards women and, as a discipline, it builds capacity amongst women to become players, coaches, referees, administrators; increasing their life skills and fostering their economic independence.
When and why was AKWOS created?
I founded AKWOS (Organization of Women in Sports) in 1998 with the mission to empower East-African women, starting from Rwandan women, through sports. After the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994, Rwanda had been torn apart, and most of the infrastructure had been destroyed. Many women had been raped and infected with HIV/AIDS. Many lost their husbands and their children. Therefore, the social fabric was completely broken, and society needed synergies to rebuild. In response to these numerous challenges, I founded AKWOS, aiming to support the Government’s reconstruction and reconciliation initiatives and help women overcome the trauma of the genocide. We used peace-building and conflict management methods to achieve these goals while promoting gender-equality and unity among communities.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you? What kind of message would you like to share today?
International Women’s Day celebrates political, economic, and social achievements that women have made. It marks the promotion of gender equality in all spheres, and it is a call for change. IWD offers an opportunity to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their countries and communities.
Rwanda has made strides with women’s representation. 64% of the Parliament members are women, and women are also well represented in leadership positions in the private sector. Women’s voices matter and they are vital contributors to society, but we must sustain our efforts.
In line with the 2021 IWD theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world », it is imperative that synergies engage more women in leadership positions by creating inclusive opportunities. It is also essential to keep implementing projects contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. End all forms of discrimination and eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls, empower women to make decisions, and support women in sports are priorities on which all decision-makers, and all of us, should focus.