Excluding women from leadership has a great cost to development — First Lady

In her remarks, First Lady Jeannette Kagame addressed the equal participation of women and girls' in leadership and decision-making. / Courtesy

Deliberate effort to put women in political positions, building institutions and strong legal frameworks, as well as strong human resource capacity,  are some of the catalysts that will ensure the African woman is empowered.

These are some of the solutions put forward by the First Lady Jeannette Kagame yesterday, during a sideline event at the on-going United Nations General Assembly taking place in New York.

She was addressing members of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD), during a High-Level Meeting themed: "Renewing Commitment towards Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Africa".

Mrs. Kagame said women and girls were still facing structural, social and cultural barriers and stereotypes and are sometimes constrained by inadequate skills from actively participating in leadership.

“There is a cost to development, associated with women’s absence in leadership and decision-making positions,” she said, quoting a 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

The event brought together decision-makers and key stakeholders including First Ladies, African Union Commission, Heads of UN agencies, private sector, government representatives and civil society organizations. / Courtesy

According to the report, every year, some $12 trillion is lost to global growth, by not including or fully utilizing women’s full potential, especially in decision-making.

She said it was important to promote the self-esteem of women, while continuously engaging the men, who lack the sensitivity to respect the fundamental rights of women to participate in the leadership and decision making at all levels.

“We need to engage the men. We cannot keep asking the oppressed to be the only ones to fight the oppression,” she noted.

The First Lady said that without the political will to create the requisite conditions for women and girls’ entry into politics and leadership at all levels, it was very difficult to make significant progress in this respect.

“Political will must never be taken for granted. In instances where this does not exist, one strategy is to sensitize the leadership (mainly men) with scientific evidence of the high cost of inequality to long-term sustainable development and peace,” she said.

On the other hand, she said the revision of national constitutions would equally provide an opportunity to remove all discriminatory dispositions against women and girls and to replace them with progressive ones that guarantee women and girls’ rights and equal participation in leadership and development.

The High-Level Meeting included a panel discussion on “Sharing best practices on gender equality and women’s empowerment across Africa”. / Courtesy

She highlighted a case of Rwanda and how the legal environment has enabled women in political positions and business to thrive.

Rwanda put in place institutional frameworks that enforce the gender-responsive policy. Among other things, the policy condemns any form of gender-based violence.

The 2003 Constitution provides that women must constitute at least 30 per cent of every level of leadership.

That commitment by Government, she said, is evident in the number of women in Parliament. 

The High-Level Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment aimed to take stock of gaps and opportunities for girls and women empowerment. / Courtesy

Currently, there is 61.3 per cent women representation in the parliament.

Mrs. Kagame indicated that while those fundamentals were important, having the right people could go further to achieve gender equality.

“Once the fundamentals are in place: good leadership, good policies, and good institutions, it is important to have the right people, well trained and equipped to translate the laws into practice for the benefit of all, and the full participation of women and girls,” she noted.

The First Lady is in New York with President Paul Kagame who addressed the UN General Assembly last evening.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com