Rwandans urged to embrace country's 'gender-neutral laws'


Minister Nyirasafari examines a water filter made from clay by a woman enterpreneur in Muhanga. Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti.

Rwanda yesterday marked the International Women’s Day under a theme that urged women to “firmly remain on the path of building the Rwanda we want”.

The government and gender activists used the occasion to celebrate the country’s progress in gender equality as well as reflect on the challenges that continue to undermine this effort and devise solutions.

Speaking to The New Times, Chantal Umuhoza, a gender and development expert, lauded the gains made in recent years as far as gender equality is concerned but said there was still a mismatch between the existing laws and policies on the one hand and reality on the other.

She said society needs to fully embrace gender equality and the spirit of the country’s gender-sensitive laws.

“We need to fully leverage the existing political will and translate our gender-neutral policies and laws into reality on the ground,” she said.

The World Economic Forum last year ranked Rwanda 4th globally in gender equality, closely behind Iceland, Norway and Finland.

“We need a mindset change as a society in a way that reflects our progressive laws,” Umuhoza said.

For example, she said, Rwandan laws recognise that both men and women have equal rights on ownership of land and property but in reality women still struggle in this aspect, especially among married couples.”

A husband, she said, is more likely to decide how and when to use land or other property that belongs to a family.

“We have a good law on Gender Based Violence, but the same law doesn’t address issues that sometimes contribute to GBV such as poverty and lack of social protection,” she said.

The activist also cited teen pregnancies and domestic chores that sometimes lead to girls dropping out of school.

Charlotte Rulinda, a member of the local musical group Charly na Nina, said one of the strategies that should be employed to end gender inequality in society is to ensure that girls attend and complete school.

“I think that now parents realise that all children are equal and that what a boy can do the girl can too. We have seen girls and women succeeding in business, construction, ICT among other sectors that were previously associated with men,” she said.

Both Umuhoza and Rulinda also said the principle of gender equality need to be reflected in day-to-day roles at the family level.