FEATURED: International Women’s Day 2019 — OpEd by the UN Resident Coordinator

With the Fourth Industrial era, more than ever in history, innovation has become the driving force of nations’ development. Technological advancements, new approaches and initiatives are connecting our global community, shaping and changing lives across the world, including the ones of millions of women and girls. We co-create the future we want, the future of dignity, equality and prosperity for all.

Today, on International Women’s Day, as we celebrate those who make up the majority of our society, build our families and are key to transformative change, this is a pivotal occasion and opportunity to think “outside the box” in order to accelerate gender equality. As stressed by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, it is a pressing priority:

“On present trends, it will take two centuries to close the gender gap in economic empowerment. I do not accept a world that tells my granddaughters that economic equality can wait for their granddaughter’s granddaughters. Our world cannot wait.” 1

This year, the Day is commemorated under the theme: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”, a call for policy-makers, leaders from all sectors and activists to leverage the vast potential available to us through innovation. Thus, we will build solutions to remove barriers for women and girls, especially those that are left farthest behind. It is important to highlight the critical role played by education in the theme of this year. It requires to change mindsets, push the boundaries of knowledge, be smart and innovate; but to make the process more relevant to gender equality let us have more girls in sciences, technologies, engineering and mathematics.

As thrive to realize the gender-equal world envisioned in the Agenda 2030, building on our achievements, let us not forget the origins of this day.

The International Women’s Day is a result of labor movements at the start of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. These movements sought to challenge the poor working conditions, low pay and absence of voting rights that women faced. This led to the establishment of the first National Women’s Day in 1909. In the following years, UN Member States made several commitments for gender equality, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the 1993 Declaration on Ending Violence against Women (VAW), the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the set of UN Security Council Resolutions on women and peace and security.

These global commitments, and others at regional and national levels, guide the efforts in fighting gender-based violence, an issue that still affects one out of three women worldwide. They also provide possibilities to ensure equal economic opportunities for women and men, unleashing a potential to add up to $28 trillion per year to the global Gross Domestic Product, boosting the global economy by a third. This amount represents 4 to 5 times the annual financial needs to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, gender equality is not only a human right but it is also an economic imperative. No other policy measure would have such a tremendous positive impact on our economic fortunes. It would secure equal access to services for all, including the 740 million women who make their living from the informal economy. The deliberate implementation of these commitments offers a clear pathway towards development as shown by the example of countries like Rwanda.

Rwanda’s ambitions set under its Vision 2050 and National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) 2017-2024, makes gender equality a key determining indicator to measure the achievement of its development targets. The role of women in the country in relation to peace building, governance and leadership fosters a more inclusive economic development. According to the IMF 2, Rwanda’s GDP growth rate averaged 2.2 percentage points above the EAC and sub-Saharan African between 2005 and 2014 with evidence that fostering gender equality has contributed ½ percentage points to this growth differential. The country’s rank in the World Economic Forum 2018 Gender Gap Report, 6 out of 144 countries, proves that the nation’s efforts to put women at the forefront of its development is widely recognized. Hence, the great strides that many countries have made in mainstreaming gender equality in various sectors, should be acknowledged, but increased efforts to maintain and accelerate them are needed.

Inequality between women and men is one of the greatest challenges to sustainable development, so let us not give it as a toxic legacy to future generations. They deserve a better heritage: men and women equally thriving. The avenues to make the much needed changes are well known. It starts from respecting women’s rights and demonstrating accountability to international, regional and national commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment. It also requires the design of human-centered and smart infrastructure, taking into consideration the particular experience of women and men, and addressing their voiced and unvoiced needs. Examples include a new generation of infrastructure that incorporates a design of public spaces to curb sexual harassment and gender-based violence, and the provision of social protection schemes that alleviate poverty for those who are unable to access basic services as well as simple measures at workplaces for better integration of women.

Inclusive technology could help close the widening gender digital divide in Africa where less women and girls are innovators, designers, or at the helm of technological transformations, resulting in infrastructure and services that are less likely to respond to their specific needs. Tracking and closing gender gaps, including in emerging sectors of development, is critical to building more inclusive, peaceful and resilient societies. For instance, Artificial Intelligence (AI), a critical in-demand skillset of the future, which only attracts 22% of female professionals, compared to 78% male, based on a LinkedIn survey. This accounts for a gender gap of 72% that has remained constant over the years, and could increase if nothing is done to reverse the trend.

Gender equality is paramount to UN work. The ONE UN family remains dedicated to its partnership with the Government of Rwanda, all Development Partners, the private sector, the civil society and academia to ensuring that women and girls are equally included in all sectors of development and humanitarian response settings. Our United Nations Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP 2018-2023) is anchored on a strong gender strategy. This supports mainstreaming gender across all its components. Within that framework, the UN will continue to leverage the expertise of its 22 agencies and its global network to support the implementation of the important laws and policies on gender equality and women’s empowerment and the contribution of women and men, boys and girls to innovation leading to transformative change. This is more important and relevant endeavor in a country like Rwanda which aims to become a knowledge based economy by 2035.

The UN is engaged in this much needed journey with enthusiasm and our strong conviction that with a shared vision and committed leadership, the right mindsets, policies and strategies, innovation and creativity will transform our world, Africa and Rwanda to a better place for all, where girls and women will thrive equally with boys and men. The examples below in cooperation with national stakeholders show that the option of inclusivity be it looking at disabilities, at gender equality or any other factor of discrimination, is not only necessary but also feasible.

The UN in Rwanda has been supporting innovative approaches to gender equality in different settings. These include the eradication of gender barriers in education, through the enhanced use of ICT to transform teaching and learning; the promotion of climate smart agriculture and use of digital technologies to empower women farmers; or the promotion of social entrepreneurship and the development of innovative solutions to provide sexual & reproductive health information and services among the youth, and combat pressing challenge of teenage pregnancy.

Building on the commendable progress already achieved, we encourage all development partners, public and private sector institutions, and the citizens of the Republic of Rwanda to continue to actively contribute to the great progress we have made in the empowerment of women and girls.

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women in Rwanda. Turi kumwe! Abishyize hamwe ntakibananira!

* 1. From the remarks by the Secretary-General to the Human Rights Council, delivered on 25th February 2019
2. IMF, Rwanda, Selected Issues, IMF Country Report 17/214, July 2017