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Part I, “Starting Places,” explores the impact of social expectations and women's experiences in shaping them for leadership. Using reflections by both women and men, the chapters look at the roles of female Rwandans, traditionally, leading up to the 1994 genocide and immediately following. There was an array of views publicly and privately: women as worthy of respect, even veneration, or subservient, even second class. Folklore, still cited today, embraces these varied, often contradictory perspectives. The modern-day women's movement is squarely situated in this strong system of beliefs about how the proper Rwandese woman behaves. Rather than seeing advancement as a new norm influenced by outsiders, Rwandans advocating for inclusion effectively appealed for a return to traditional respect for women's complementary attributes. These cultural underpinnings are valuable for understanding the evolution of women's roles.

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