Last week, Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities (RALGA) launched a new initiative called Rwanda Network of Women in Local Government.
The platform was established to work as an internal mechanism that will facilitate capacity building of for its members in order to enhance effective delivery and accountability.
The local government focuses on the public administration of towns, cities, counties and districts. It starts from City of Kigali to the village level, and women are still few in this sphere.
Figures from the Electoral Commission indicate that among the elected local government officials selected in 2016, women representation stood at 40 per cent.
It is the low numbers and the need to empower women that led to the launch of this initiative.
Ladislas Ngendahimana, Secretary General of RALGA, says as an association of Local Government Authorities that has the core mandate of local government capacity building; they set up the initiative to serve as an internal mechanism that would empower women through capacity building.
There are reasons why women are fewer than men in the local government, this is what they want to address and the reason why they chose to focus on women for the initiative.
Although women are faced with challenges, such as work and family balance, Ngendahimana believes they have the resilience to perform excellently; they have unique abilities they want to influence in the working environment.
“Culture taught women not to speak up which limits their potential. This is why we put an internal instrument for peer learning that can facilitate mentorship, where women can talk about their roles and challenges at work, share experiences and learn from each other,” Ngendahimana says.
“We want to see that women become firm and fully equipped to fulfil their roles. We believe that if we are able to do all this, provide them with a favourable environment, and have the right skills, it can encourage other women to join the local government.”
With the moto ‘United to Deliver’ the initiative is based on principles of unity, patriotism, citizen-centred leadership, sacrifice, peer mentorship, resilience and self-reliance.
Women should let their presence be felt
RALGA set up the platform but it is the women on the forum who will be in charge, right from the action plan to the way the system will be operated.
A committee of seven members has already been put in place and is chaired by Kigali City Mayor, Marie-Chantal Rwakazina. Its role is to develop an action plan and the rules governing the mechanism.
Ngendahimana explains that they preferred the bottom-up approach because they aim at building character for stronger institutions.
“We want them to be in charge of it all; as RALGA, we are going to establish a gender desk which will do follow-up, support and evaluation. They will make an assessment and show us the challenges they meet in the workplace, such that we see how best we can work with other stakeholders in addressing them. We believe it will work best if women make it their own.
“We need women with ability to own positions on merit and not mercy, a woman who is able to stand in front of people and command and serve as a role model to others,” he adds.
Another step towards women empowerment
Evelyn Ruyonga, a women’s rights activist, says yet again, women are to be at the forefront and that they should embrace such an opportunity that would not only empower them, but also give them a chance to serve their country better.
She also says that a lot still holds women back but with such a platform, the challenges will be addressed.
“This is going to be reasonable ground for advocacy; women will be able to put to light their day-to-day challenges. It will also promote solidarity,” she says.
Ruyonga applauds RALGA and hopes other institutions develop a similar technique to retain and empower women.
Solange Umutesi, the vice chairperson of social affairs, Nyanza District, and a member of the elected committee, says the forum will help women come together and seek solutions to the challenges that are still holding them back.
On top of that, Umutesi says citizens will be served with due diligence, for they will be equipped with the best skills.
“The platform has come to help us serve the nation better, it will be upon us to ensure that we fulfil our duties to the fullest and make sure that our presence is felt. They have played their role, it is time for us to play ours,” she says.
With this, Umutesi says that women will be well represented which will encourage others to serve their country through the local government.
“We need to inspire other women for them to understand that that they can also be in decision-making positions,” she says.
The director of women empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Bosco Murangira, says that this initiative comes at the right time when the national gender machinery institutions are renewing commitments towards the empowerment of women and girls, aligning to the National Transformation Strategy (NST1) and sustaining gender in Rwanda.
“This initiative meets beneficiaries at their point of need. We believe that it will create a bigger socio-economic impact, mostly to rural women,” he says.
Murangira also believes that women local leaders will continue to act as a catalyst to create pertinent solutions to some of the key issues and challenges, for example, gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancy, financial inclusion for women, stunting and malnutrition, among others.
“Specifically for women empowerment, we believe that local women leaders will mostly act as mentors to other women in their localities, mostly in areas of leadership, career guidance and entrepreneurship,” Murangira says.