• Your Excellency Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal and Madame Wade;
• Madame Sia Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone
• Your Excellency Ms Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan-African Parliament
• Your Excellency Joseph Boakai, Vice-President of the Republic of Liberia;
• Heads of Institutions of Senegal;
• Honourable Senators and Members of Parliament;
• Mrs. Bineta Diop, Founder and Executive Director of Femmes Africa Solidarité;
• Representatives of International Organisations and of civil society;
• Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
Let me begin my remarks by thanking his Excellency President Wade, the Government and the people of Senegal for your gracious African hospitality.
Mr. President, I am greatly honoured to join the club with you and President Mbeki. The two of you are leaders not only in promoting women’s equality but on many other issues on our continent – so I am very happy to be joining you.
Allow me to express my sincere gratitude to Femmes Africa Solidarité for the African Gender Award you have granted us Rwandans, in recognition of our efforts to ensure that women and men are equal partners in nation building.
I congratulate you on the just concluded African Gender Forum that addressed a very critical question facing Africa today – namely, African migration and its impact on women.
I will return to this matter later in my remarks.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Understanding Rwanda’s attempts to foster a society in which gender discrimination is a thing of the past, requires that we appreciate the broader context of reconstructing our society in the past fourteen years.
Rwanda’s colonial and post-colonial history up to 1994 is a history marked by various forms of discrimination – including those based on ethnicity, region, religion and of course exclusion of women.
During our struggle to create a better Rwanda, a struggle that gathered more momentum in the early 1990s, women and men together mobilized and managed resources for our effort – and fought side by side.
If there was any doubt on the part of our male colleagues about women’s ability during the early part of our struggle, it proved baseless.
This is what solidified our belief and practice in “ability” as the single most important determining factor in the role of individuals – men or women. And so when we formed Rwanda’s Government of National Unity in 1994, we believed strongly that a practice that had served us so well outside government, would serve us equally well if not better.
The status and role of women in Rwandan society was brought into active national debate during the same period – a discussion which shed more light on the fact that denying women a role in any national activity is not only an abuse of human rights, but also an act of self-sabotage!
Prohibiting more than half of a country’s population from engaging in productive socioeconomic activity amounts to shortsightedness – and is without question, a waste of human resources.
Therefore a nation that promotes women is not doing women a favour, but doing the nation itself a favour.
The challenge in Rwanda therefore is no longer the understanding of the urgent need for healthier gender relations, but rather, how to rapidly achieve this ideal.
We have been pursuing three related strategies in this regard:
First – women themselves creating structures that advocate removal of social, economic or political features that undermine their active roles in Rwandan society;
Second, government reforming laws that previously supported gender biases;
Third, facilitating access to education for women and girls in order to equip them with a basis for pursuing equal opportunities in all aspects of national life;
Let me illustrate each of the above with examples.
With regard to women advancing their own cause, the National Women Council (NWC) with structures at grassroots, district and at national level was created in 1996. This forum enables resolves a number of issues as well as promotes empowerment.
In legal reforms, the 1999 Law of successions which effectively removed gender bias giving both boys and girls an equal right to inheritance.
This reform marked a major breakthrough in the legal protection of women in the realm of property rights that quite literally did not exist previously.
We put in our Constitution a provision of a minimum 30 percent of women’s participation in all national decision-making institutions.
As you have been told, 49 percent of the Rwandan deputies are women. Also 42 percent of the Supreme Court judges are women, including its president. I must add that they are doing a very good job.
As noted earlier, it was important to address the education sector in order to provide a solid foundation for future equal opportunities among women and men.
Universal access to primary school education has now been extended to the first three years of secondary school. It is mandatory in Rwanda for all children – girls and boys – to attend school.
We believe this is fundamental for gender equality in our country, and indeed for improving our development prospects by building a skill base and critical mass of expertise from among all able Rwandans.
These are but modest achievements – we still face in Rwanda enormous development challenges.
Mr. President: Let me say that the issue being addressed by the African Gender Forum – the African brain drain – is an essential question on our continent.
We continue to lose our brightest people, including women to Western countries.
Even though of late this problem is increasingly seen as beneficial due to Diaspora remittances to their communities back home, we must remember that this is not a result of strategic decision or design by ourselves – but rather, something that is happening by default.
In today’s global economy, professionals are driven to seek better opportunities wherever they can be found. And that is the challenge for Africa – we must improve good governance and incentive systems to retain our most talented daughters and sons – and to even go further and draw the best from the rest of the world.
Human resources are like investments or financial resources – in order to draw a larger share of global resources, we have to work harder to attract and retain it.
We must create the right environment for people to put to use their talent and skills as well as nurture the right mindset to appreciate specialists and their knowledge assets as key components for transforming our societies and economies for the betterment of all African people.
In conclusion, let me on behalf of Rwandans and on my own behalf express our most sincere gratitude for the honour you have bestowed on us through the African Gender Award.
This generous gesture will no doubt further inspire Rwandans and indeed Africans, to strive for societies focused on mobilizing human talent in its totality – whether female or male.
I thank you Mr President, I thank Femmes Africa Solidarité and all the Senegalese people who are here today to receive us.