International Women’s Day is a special day to celebrate the socio-economic, cultural and political achievements of women the world over. As we celebrate this day we recognize the achievements and progress made in empowering women, as well as the challenges and barriers hindering them from achieving their full potential and limiting their contribution towards national economic, social and political development.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for gender equality” calls for revamped efforts towards achieving gender equality globally. The campaign theme: #pledge for parity encourages the participation of everyone, including men, in the society to make deliberate decisions that will influence gender equality at the grass-roots level.
Whether or not it is possible to bridge the gender gap by 2030 is dependent on a lot of factors. Already some global bodies like the World Economic Forum (WEF) are warning that the gender gap is not likely to close until 2133. This means that it will be at least 117 years from now before women can enjoy the same socio- economic and political benefits as their male counterparts worldwide.
In 2014, WEF had predicted that gender parity would be achieved by 2095 – 38 years less than what they predicted in 2015. This is a dark, grim picture given world– wide high level conferences, commitments and discussions on gender equality that have taken place over time.
The situation hence begs for some sort of explanation today as we review how far women have come and celebrate some of the achievements. Globally these efforts have yielded counterintuitive results on the ground whereby it seems that the more we talk and commit ourselves, the less results are achieved and it seems the longer it’s going to take us to reach our destination.
While some countries have experienced real defining results, others have seen a slow down. Rwanda is one such country that has yielded tremendous results and it’s almost impossible for me, and I believe many others, to talk about gender parity and not reference Rwanda as a positive case study.
There has been a lot of talk and surprisingly - for an African state - equally a lot of action. It is therefore no wonder it was ranked 7th on the global gender gap index in 2014, 6th in 2015 and who knows what top 5 position it will grasp this year? It is the only African state to make it to the top 10 list and to be listed ahead of “super power” economies such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany and France.
This is the reason I think efforts have been counter intuitive in some countries because one would reason that these so called developed countries would be leading the pack in closing the gender gap as they do during the “gender talks”.
I am not saying Rwanda is perfect because it has obviously not yet successfully closed the gender gap but it is well on its way. Hence, it’s worth taking a look at what correct steps it has taken to achieve the victories that will be celebrated today and learn from them.
Women are key contributors in the society and having their voices added to political matters is important to empowering them to make even greater contributions to national agendas. The Rwandan parliament has set precedence with the quota system that has seen more than 60% of parliamentary seats occupied by women.
This precedence has infiltrated the public sector where more and more women are being appointed and elected into leadership positions. Women in parliament have been successful in putting forward and influencing the agenda of women empowerment resulting in legislations on various matters ranging from land ownership and inheritance to paid maternity leave. Should this trend continue, quotas in Rwanda may be unnecessary in the future as the results speak for themselves and women’s participation in political issues becomes a norm.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) has been aggressive, to say the least, in combating social and cultural practices that continue to limit women empowerment worldwide. Working within what is referred to as the national gender machinery- a collection of government institutions established to run and monitor gender equality geared programmes – the ministry has been able to reach out to women in the grass-roots level to educate them on their rights and encourage women to speak up in a culture where silence is golden.
There is however, a lot of more that needs to be done especially with regard to GBV, reproductive and maternal health and financial inclusion. This year Rwanda has adapted the international theme to: “Step it up for gender equality, strive for women empowerment” which is an encouraging theme for me.
It expresses Rwanda’s obvious dissatisfaction with what has been achieved so far and its wish to push the boundaries even further to achieve more for Rwandan women. For a country that has already achieved so much in promoting gender empowerment and gained a lot of international recognition for it, this is commendable. Rwanda has a come a long way in overcoming the challenges resulting from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
The gains in women empowerment are great examples of what a country can achieve with the right political will. No matter how you look at it, there is undeniable political will to support women overcome obstacles that hinder their contribution to national development.
Aside from the frameworks and policies which have proved effective in promoting gender equality, political will is the greatest take away lesson for the world. Great policies and frameworks would not amount to much if political will to implement is lacking.
Rwanda has proved that gender equality can be a reality through prioritizing and putting your money where your mouth is. The need to empower women and the resulting benefits cannot be understated. It’s time for governments to put aside much talk and start to act. If Rwanda can do it, surely every country is in a position to achieve the same or better results. The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali