Anne Höglund (pictured) is the Acting Head of Mission at the Embassy of Sweden. Known for its feminist policies, Sweden’s cooperation with Rwanda always includes aspects of gender equality and women empowerment. Höglund talked to The New Times’ Sharon Kantengwa about different topics surrounding women empowerment. Empowerment is a complex and multi-dimensional subject. How would you define women empowerment? I think womens empowerment is about women having a voice and influence in society and the same power as men to make their own choices. To empower women and girls, they have to have the same opportunities as men and boys. The right to education is especially crucial. In many countries, women and girls continue to suffer from unequal opportunities. Could you share with us some of the contributions the Swedish Embassy has made in Rwandas journey towards women empowerment? Sweden has a feminist government and a feminist foreign policy. This means that we have a gender perspective on everything we do. More specifically, however, in Rwanda, we are working with access to finance and savings groups for women through civil society, which of course is about increasing women’s economic empowerment and enabling them to have their own resources. With economic empowerment, you strengthen women in so many other ways as well. A gender perspective is also integrated with the support we give to the reconciliation and peacebuilding process. The gender perspective is also present for example in our institutional cooperation with Rwanda on land mapping and land rights, and here we also have the opportunity to raise awareness about women’s human rights and particularly their right to land. We also work with the University of Rwanda and we want to make sure that we have an equal number of women candidates as Ph.D. students going to Sweden to study. This is a challenge but important. We are very proud that Rwanda’s new Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Prof Jeannette Bayisenge, was a Ph.D. student in Sweden. In our cooperation with the University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism, we try to engage more female journalists. It’s important for democracy. We also support civil society groups that focus on gender-based violence and the protection of women who are victims of this. Around this period of International Women’s Day, we are organizing different events focusing on women and gender equality together with other EU embassies and the EU delegation in Rwanda. How can you describe Rwandas journey towards women empowerment and gender equality in general? I don’t think it’s for me to answer but I can say that I’m very impressed by the strong leadership of the President and the government in Rwanda when it comes to putting women empowerment on the agenda. It is important to have women in influential positions and Rwanda has a very impressive record. To achieve real change, it is crucial that this is not only happening at the top level but at all levels in society and that women have a real influence. This takes a long time because culture and traditions are involved, but having the government set an example is important. Rwanda still grapples with challenges of gender economic gaps. What do you think can be done to address these challenges? It is important for girls to have an education. Without education, it is very difficult to improve your economic situation and to get a job. When you make your own money, it gives both confidence and more power. There cannot be real gender equality if you do not have economic equality. Still, even in Sweden and Europe, women are paid less when they do the same job as men and women still take on more responsibility for unpaid work at home. Even when we have a good system, women still get fewer pensions because they have less pay. It is important therefore to work for gender equality everywhere. What advice or suggestions can you give to women walking the path of women empowerment? What I always tell young women is to believe in themselves, to make their own choices and try to achieve their dreams. Women and girls are often adapting to the wishes of others, living up to the expectations of other people around them, like parents or husbands. I think it’s important for us to be confident to make our own choices. Women in influential positions should not only be content with their own achievements but use their own position and experience to support younger women, through for example mentoring and being role models. Sweden is one of the countries championing women empowerment, with over 80 per cent of its gender gap closed. What are some of the lessons Rwanda can draw from it? For things to happen, you need to have concrete action, you cannot only talk. In Sweden, the government and public offices have been at the forefront with very clear gender equality strategies and action plans. We have extensive legislation on the private sector’s responsibility to promote gender equality. Discrimination based on gender is against the law. We also have a lot of incentives through our social security systems and family policies which for example encourage fathers to take parental leave and in other ways make it possible for parents to both works and have children. Since gender issues are very much discussed in our society, it’s always scrutinized by media and companies are also asked how they are promoting gender equality. It is also important that in schools, and everywhere in society, boys and girls are treated equally. Gender equality is about rights but it is also beneficial for society. It is actually scientifically proven that gender-equal businesses and gender-equal societies are more prosperous than others.