Gender equality has seen progress over the last decades; women are in leadership positions, girls can access education and laws are in place to curb gender-based violence. However, much remains to be done since challenges that restrict women’s ability to thrive economically and socially are still predominant. As the world celebrates International Women’s Day today, Plan International Rwanda, development and humanitarian Organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, and also advocates for the change in policies, budgets and negative gender and social norms that hinder children’s full potential, has emphasised the need to uproot negative stereotypes against women that seem to have become deeply rooted in societies. The Organisation believes that confronting and changing these stereotypes is critical to the attainment of gender equality. William Mutero, Country Director of Plan International Rwanda says he appreciates the journey and achievements so far by the government and other stakeholders, adding that the impediments are still quite many nonetheless. According to The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda-Labour Force Survey 2018, there are still considerable gaps with women participation in the mining and quarrying sectors for example. Women are only 5.8% in the mining and quarrying sector compared to 94.2% males; 14.6% in the construction sector compared to 85.4%, and 3.0% in the transportation and storage compared to 97.0%. Mutero says all of these, need attention to accelerate gender equality and inclusion. “The world can only achieve development, if women’s rights are valued. The power of developing our communities lies in realising the potential of women and uplifting them so that they become reasonable citizens and contribute to the development of their societies,” he says. International Women’s Day is important for us; we believe however that we don’t celebrate the issues of women on the 8th of march only but the day is an opportunity for us to continue the conversations on the issues that surround women, he notes. More remains to be done Mutero says gender equality is at the core of the work they do but believe that inequality can only be tackled at the root cause. Women and Girls must not be harassed or abused and should be supported to make informed decisions on how and when to use their bodies including observing their right to access contraceptives even when under the age of 18. As an organisation, they work closely with local and national authorities as well as partners to enhance the lives of women and children, especially girls to have access to good health services and education. This has been done through the construction of early childhood development centres, schools, health centres and teacher training centres. “We have supported families with nutrition and good parenting, worked with girls to advance their rights and done interventions to end early/teenage pregnancy. We have also implemented programmes aimed to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and unequal gender and power relations to realise girls’ and women’s representation”. William Said. In line with this, Plan International works with key actors to address gender and negative social norms by developing a sense of self-worth, identity and belonging for girls from childhood until they transition into adulthood. Further, the Organisation fosters an enabling environment for gender equality and girls’ rights and are committed to engaging with different actors including government to embed gender equality and inclusion into their policy and implementation plans and budgets. They also respond to the needs and interests of girls and boys in all their diversity including education needs and Inclusive quality education, economic opportunities and representation among others. “We support girls’ and young women’s agency and empower them to speak up against barriers that hinder the attainment of their full potential. We also advance both the condition and position of girls but also work with boys, young men, and men to embrace gender equality and exercise positive and diverse masculinities,” he highlights. Impact made In the financial year 2020/2021, an estimated 206,459 girls under the age of 18, and 262,744 women have been directly and indirectly impacted with programmes. In addition, over 213,105 boys and 203,978 men were also reached and engaged. More so, over 7875 (3851 female and 4024 male) households affected by Covid-19 have been supported with more than 720 million Rwanda francs cash transfers for food, while 2000 households were reached with non-food items like mattresses, sewing machines, and hair dressing equipment among others. Furthermore, 113000 students (girls and boys) were reached with 2260 solar powered radios distributed to facilitate their distance learning. More than 12 girls’ safe rooms were also constructed in Nyaruguru and Bugesera districts. To sustain the achievements made, the Country Director believes more needs to be done at policy level, especially at implementation and at community level to change both the condition and the status of women. “We need to change the gender norms and stereotypes. We can say a lot of things but if we don’t change the attitudes at all levels, it will be hard to attain our goal. Media and of course other stakeholders have a big role to play here. We need the laws and policies that promote the participation of women.” William noted. For the international Women’s Day celebrations, Mutero encourages communities to continue highlighting and amplifying the issues that affect girls and women. “Let’s continue to talk about it, this day is an opportunity for us to reflect in terms of the progress. We need to not only talk about it but also tackle the root causes, because then we will be able to come up with a sustainable way of dealing with these issues and ensure that gender inequality is eradicated from our societies.” He added. Beneficiaries speak out 24-year-old Faith Mutesi is now a university graduate but there was a time in high school, when she wasn’t sure of her future. At the time, she was on the verge of dropping out of school because she couldn’t afford school fees anymore. But Plan International Rwanda intervened and offered her a scholarship along with other students. “I remember when Plan International Rwanda came to our school, they offered scholarships to top performers and I was lucky to be among those who were selected. They also offered me school materials, and from then on- my concentration improved. I was not stressed anymore, this gave me time to focus on my studies and I believe this is the reason, I was able to obtain a government scholarship for university,” she says. She commends the organisation’s efforts for reaching out to the vulnerable and changing their lives. “I thank them so much because I am where I am because of them. I now believe I am among those who can change society, this is the reason, I decided to be a Volunteer with this organisation, I want to make impact in society.” Mutesi is now a youth activist fighting climate change in her community. She hopes for women and youth to gain a wider platform where they can have their voices heard and impact felt. Beatrice Nyirahabineza, a resident of Nyaruguru District says her life changed for the better ever since she became a part of the organisation’s beneficiaries. Her life and that of her family has transformed for the better, she says, adding that the community has developed too. “People see how we (beneficiaries) change and they learn from us. Because of this, we are now able to fight vices such as gender-based violence, poor nutrition and poor sanitation,” she says. As beneficiaries, they are trained on how to form saving cooperatives, trained on the importance of hygiene and other aspects such as building stable families. “My engagement with Plan International Rwanda dates back in 2019, by then we had issues with my husband, we always had misunderstandings, but this has changed. Through parents’ forum held in our communities (ECD centres), we have been able to learn how-to live-in harmony. Men too receive trainings which helps a lot,” she says. Nyirahabineza says the transformation reached their financial status as a family, noting that through the financial skills she was given, she learnt how to save, started a business and now practices farming and rears cattle. “We have been transformed in all areas, we understand the importance of equality, we now teach our children to understand equality from a young age as we were taught by Plan International. My dream is to work hard and give my family a good life.” Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian Organisation (non-profit) that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. They believe in the power and potential of every child. For more than 83 years, the Organisation has been supporting children’s rights from birth until they reach adulthood. They’ve done so, through driving changes in practice and policy at local, national and global levels using their reach, experience and knowledge. Plan International has been operating in Rwanda since 2007.