By Prof. Jeannette Bayisenge, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion of the Republic of Rwanda
Through lobbying and the passage of legislation, the Netherlands is ahead of many countries around the world in terms of women’s rights.
As the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion in Rwanda, I applaud this. Rwanda has also strived to promote opportunities for all women and girls. Our experience as a nation proves that the link between gender equality and sustainable development can never be over-emphasized.
Following the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, the entire nation was left to reflect on how to rebuild our country. Very early in this process, our government recognised that emphasising equality throughout the country, particularly with respect to gender equality, would be a key pillar on which progress could be built.
This was underscored by two realities. Firstly, that pre-genocide Rwanda had been a primarily paternalistic society – with little opportunity for women to take part in leadership in government or in wider society. Secondly, due to the genocide and outflows of refugees during and after it –women were the majority and the recovery would only be possible if both women and men play a central role. In addition, realising that equality was a fundamental human right – not a favour – and that women’s leadership would be vital in times where forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacebuilding would be priorities – the government took a strong stance on women’s representation.
This cannot simply be achieved by lip service, however. Undoing historic patriarchal tendencies takes action. Therefore, Rwanda devised several innovative mechanisms to promote women’s representation and inclusion. Lawmakers introduced some of the most women-friendly policies in the world and women were heavily involved in the drafting of a new constitution, between 1994 and its publication in 2003 and other gender sensitive laws as well as policies and strategies. For instance, girls and boys are allowed to inherit equally ; women and men can assume the leadership within the family and have the same rights on family property and this has enabled women to use their land as collateral to obtain loans, encouraging financial independence; girls’ education is priority and incentives are created for girls to study traditionally male-dominated subjects – for example, almost 44.7% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) students are women. In the same context, a girl’s room is a requirement for primary and secondary schools to increase’ girls’ privacy during their periods. To fight against gender-based violence, women in parliament lobbied for laws against gender-based violence that criminalized marital rape and provide punishment for Gender-Based Violence in all its forms.
The results speak for themselves.
Currently, Rwanda is leading globally in terms of women representation in Parliament (61.3%); 2nd African Country to close gender gaps and 7th globally (World Economic forum, 2021). Women are also represented in other leadership positions along with their counterparts’ men with 55% of female in Cabinet, 51% female judges, 46.1% of women in District councils (NEC report,2021). Women, throughout the country and at all levels, are at the forefront of leadership and decision-making. The progress we see in Rwanda today is not only the result of this commitment to inclusivity, but also the fruits of women’s efforts. As President Kagame once said: “We did not give dignity to women. It was always theirs. All we did was bring it to light”
Economically, Rwanda has the world’s highest rate of female labor force participation at 86 –as highlighted by the World Economic Forum in 2018. Women contribute 30% of the GDP, while female entrepreneurship accounts for 42% of enterprises countrywide and 58% of informal businesses, according to International Finance Corporation. In addition, women are given special access to finance from both public and private financing institutions. For example, with respect to financial inclusion, the 2020 FinScope survey revealed that 92% of women are financially included compared to 93% men. Business Development Fund (BDF) also facilitates women to access capital for their business ventures by providing a 75% coverage on due collateral.
An all-of-government and indeed all-of-society approach to ensuring gender equality has been at the heart of these achievements, and at the heart of Rwanda’s rebirth as a prosperous and peaceful nation.
I also recognise, as so many do, that further action needs to be taken, not just here but around our continent, and indeed around the world. By elaborating on our experience as a nation, I hope to spread this message more widely.
As His Excellency President Paul Kagame remarked earlier this year: “Equality is a right not a favour. We must do even more and better to ensure that the next generations of our daughters and granddaughters inherit a nation where their aspirations have no limits.” This is a spirit that every country, and every society, can take on board – we can always do more.