A Government that Cannot Afford Citizens
Yesterday, the Worldwide Organization for Women (WOW) hosted an event dedicated to the health of rural women as a challenge for governments and local communities. Rwanda was presented as an example of a country that relentlessly works to empower women. Dr. Nyirarukundo Shirley Randell , Managing Director of SRIA Rwanda Ltd., spoke of the results that on-the-ground efforts in Rwanda have had.
She began by explaining that Rwanda is one of the only African nations that will achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Between 2005 and 2010, Rwanda significantly decreased its poverty level and achieved its MDG for TB, Malaria, and HIV. Maternal mortality was reduced thanks to the provision of childbirth kits to rural women. Child mortality was also reduced significantly and women with HIV have given birth to healthy babies. The president of Rwanda has expanded free education of women to nine years and hopes to provide 12 years of free education for women by the end of his term. Dr. Randell attributes these victories to civil society and to the government.
What stood out to me the most was her claim that contraceptive use between 2005 and 2010 skyrocketed from 10 percent to 45 percent. Dr. Randell then proceeded to explain that the Catholic Church has instituted a majority of the schools and hospital in the countries, but still does not allow contraception. Because of this, Catholic clinics do not provide condoms and contraception “and there is nothing we can do about it.” So, she informed us, a government clinic is built next to each Catholic Clinic to provide contraception.
I thought this could be further explained so I asked Dr. Randell if the government, or her group, specifically target Catholic clinics or the women who go into Catholic clinics during the Q &A part of the presentation. Before I share what se said, I think it is worth mentioning that not only is the Catholic Church responsible for establishing many hospitals in Rwanda, but also close to 50% of Rwandans are practicing Catholics who trust and obey their church.*
Dr. Randell’s answer was very enlightening. She stated that culture is very constraining, that in Rwanda and in the Catholic Church the culture is still patriarchic. She also stated that Evangelical Christians are flooding Africa with their views about sexuality, something which I think can also be said about her own efforts. Dr. Randell said “we respect the religious belief.” She also said that the government respects that Catholics are under mandate of their leader. And though she might be right in claiming that the government “respects the religious belief”, I do think that deliberately placing a government clinic next to all Catholic health care constitutes targeting of these hospitals by the government.
She then explained the real reason for encouraging contraception. She stated that it is government policy to reduce the size of families from six kids to three because there is a “constant need if there are more children to have more education and healthcare” and the government can simply not afford it. Instead, the government creates clinics with condoms which are the best way to decrease family size. Whether or not the government should invest the money it uses to prevent children into an education system that can sustain more students I leave to your digression, but I do think that warning flags should be raised when governments officially institute such policies.