Rwanda has received international recognition for promotion of gender equality and women empowerment policies.
The country has made significant strides, sometimes unprecedented, in ensuring gender parity and gender mainstreaming across all the sectors.
An independent evaluation of national economic policies found that, while gender received more attention than other crosscutting issues, there is still need to sustain gender parity as a top priority.
In particular, it was established that there is need for more budgetary allocations towards gender equity in sector programmes.
Most of the remaining challenges are linked to low capacity in planning, weak advocacy, limited budgetary allocation, insufficient gender disaggregated data, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation by gender advocates and others responsible for mainstreaming gender equality in the development process.
A 2011 Gender Statistics Report by Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) and recent statistics in governance provide a general picture of gender parity in different sectors.
Governance and legal framework
Rwanda’s political commitment to gender equality has been illustrated by the development of national frameworks and mechanisms including, but not limited to, the Constitution, the Vision 2020, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), as well as National Gender Policy and Decentralisation Policy.
Major achievements have been registered in the legal framework while ambitious structural reforms favouring women have been undertaken, including putting in place policies and strategies to ensure that women participate actively in the leadership.
The Constitution provides that either gender should be represented at a minimum of 30 per cent in decision-making positions in the public sector, private sector and civil society.
The highlight of Rwanda’s unprecedented success in women empowerment is in the legislature where women occupy at least 64 per cent of seats in the Lower House. This milestone was achieved following the 2013 parliamentary elections during which women swept 51 out of 80 seats, a development that observers partly attributed to a standing quota system that sets aside 24 seats for women representatives, political organisations’ ever-growing confidence in women (more and more are nowadays fronted for elective positions), and Rwandan women’s growing clout politically and socially.
This feat saw Rwanda break its own world record of becoming the first country with a women dominated parliament, with female MPs having previously held a 56 per cent majority in the Chamber of Deputies (since 2008). Indeed, Rwanda remains the only country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament.
Women also occupy about 38 per cent in the Senate, 40 per cent in the Cabinet and account for 40 per cent of Permanent Secretaries.
An analysis of official statistics indicate that women are more represented in elected organs than in positions of appointment. A relatively high representation of women is seen in district councils (44.8per cent), Council of the City of Kigali (40 per cent), sector councils (44.8 per cent) and cells (42.4 per cent). Balance in equal participation of men and women in the executive power governance organs is also seen in Rwanda Correctional Services where women in general commissariat of prisons stand at 50 per cent.
On the contrary, women constitute only 20 per cent of ambassadors and high commissioners, 15.5per cent executive secretaries of public institutions, and 26.8 per cent of government bodies’ board members.
Two out of five governors – including Kigali City – (40 per cent) are women while a paltry 6.3 per cent of district mayors and 6.7per cent of district executive secretaries are female.
On the legal front, the law on inheritance and matrimonial regimes also accord both genders equal rights and opportunity, with girls and women now enjoying property rights in the same measure, at least legally, as their male counterparts.
The Family Code also reflects the principle of women empowerment and gender parity. There are several other gender sensitive laws, including the one on Gender Based Violence, as well as institutional frameworks with a mandate to promote gender equity, such as the Gender Monitoring Office, the National Women’s Council, among others.
Observers say that the high representation of women in Rwanda’s parliament has also helped to increasingly do away with laws and policies that discriminate against girls and women.
Rwanda’s economy is largely based on agriculture; the sector employs more than 80 per cent of the population and its contribution to GDP varies from 30 per cent to 40 per cent. According to the 2011 report by GMO, 85per cent of heads of households which include 27per cent that are headed by females are occupied in agriculture. It is highlighted that, in terms of gender equity, heavy burdens continue to be placed upon women, who contribute much in the activities of producing food crops. Furthermore, certain activities, such as managing livestock, are mainly done by girls and boys.
Women are poorly represented when it comes to the agricultural sector yet they do most of the work. In the report, it is observed that women coffee farmers were only 29.9 per cent while only 6.5 per cent of women were owners of coffee washing stations.
To this end, the EDPRS and other important policy documents and sector strategies recommend that gender be considered in all actions undertaken for economic growth and poverty reduction and for the well-being of the population. Given that gender equality is reflected in day-to-day life, its impact could be measured from objectively verifiable indicators.
Improving access to infrastructure is fundamental for promoting women’s economic empowerment. It increases agricultural productivity, a sector in which women contribute more in developing countries, gives free time for productive activities, facilitates employment and provides easy access to markets. However, many infrastructure projects and programmes are gender-blind as they assume that both women and men will automatically benefit from them.
Given that the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially in Africa, depends on how living conditions of women and girls are improved, there is a pressing need of improving women’s lives. Well designed, appropriately located and affordable infrastructure can be a powerful tool in the pursuit of gender equality. In other words, infrastructure projects should be designed to increase economic opportunities for women, provide appropriate services to women, and actively involve and empower women.
Information on the number of persons employed within ICT companies is also gender biased. The report shows that 761 persons were employed in this sector. Male and female are 541 and 220, representing 71 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively.
In the transport sector, the report indicated that only 44 persons participated in design and implementation of transport infrastructure in 2011, 81 per cent of them being male and 19 per cent female. Of 67 persons who are in charge of transport programmes both at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Rwanda Transport Development Authority, 19 were female and 48 male.
Private sector development is a key engine for economic growth and crucial to reducing poverty. Women and girls make up to three-fifths of the world’s one billion poorest people. Promoting equal participation of women and men in the labour force, especially for women who seem to be among the poorest people, constitutes a critical potential tool for reducing poverty and increasing the poor’s income and therefore ensures economic growth of countries.
Private firms, from farmers and micro-entrepreneurs to local manufacturing and multinational enterprises, are at the centre of the development process by providing more jobs than the public sector, and creating opportunities for people to apply their skills.
In Rwanda, men generally dominate the private sector. But there are a few exceptions. One such example is COOPEDU Microfinance where percentages of women are higher than those of men.
It is generally acknowledged that in Rwanda men’s involvement in business is far greater than that of women. This means that, contrary to the significant participation of women in governance issues, their participation in economic development and big businesses remains second best to men’s.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Connie Bwiza, Parliamentarian
Gender mainstreaming policy is still new to many people and implementing it has to be a gradual process. Good enough there’s political will, various frameworks and institutional support to back it even as we still have problems in the area of institutional support. We have to adjust because our background dictated otherwise and therein lies our biggest problem. We have to constantly push for it to be implemented in institutions.
Secondly, this policy has been in place since 2001. Surely there are some excuses that need to be revisited to weed out some of the loopholes and discuss major ways to implement it. Lastly, it is commendable what has been achieved to promote girls’ rights including in the areas of education and health care.
Edward Munyamaliza, Executive Secretary, Rwanda Men’s Resource Center
The policy is very good and instrumental but there’s still a mindset problem. Some people tend to think that by empowering women, we are disempowering men and this is very wrong. We are merely trying to show women that they are at the same level as men and have equal rights and opportunities.
On the other hand, implementation has taken quite some time because women are still struggling to understand their roles or rights. Women need to be sensitised and strategies should be devised on how to bridge the capacity gap. Secondly, institutions shouldn’t only think of having women in decision-making positions just because they are looking for someone to handle the docket of social affairs.
The government should also put in more efforts in strengthening women institutions such the National Women Council (NWC). At least, they should be allocated a portion in the national budget that is proportionate to what the government expects them to deliver.
Alex Twahirwa, Gender Desk, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion
The policy has no problem but there are certain challenges that need to be resolved, one of them being that women still lack confidence to run or apply for certain offices. This is due to a number of factors like the working environment that is not favourable for girls but more especially women who have to combine these jobs with reproductive and domestic chores.
Another issue is that of poor mindset among the community on gender related issues. There is a challenge of bridging the capacity gap to mainstream gender in policies, programmes and projects. This poses a dilemma, especially with regard to acquiring the minimum 30 per cent representation of women in decision-making positions as required by the Constitution. For example, how many engineers or pilots do we have? They are very few and yet we need the numbers to add up.
We are currently encouraging girls to take up science courses. We are also trying to get them mentors in career guidance and leadership to encourage and guide them along the way. Of course we shall continue sensitising people and pushing for the implementation of the gender mainstreaming policy.