A survey published in March 2018 by Gender Monitoring Office put the number of women owning land in Rwanda higher than their male counterparts by a whopping 10 per cent difference.
This by no measure a significant gain world over and a major milestone in Rwanda where, just 2015 years ago, a woman did not have any single right to land.
Cases abound where, in case of a deceased man of the house and where the children are girls, the family land would be passed on to kinsmen from the husband’s family, leaving the bereaved family to suffer in perpetuity.
Before 1994, it was not uncommon for the husband to go to the bar and after having one too many, sell off the family land without much as consulting the wife, and in no time, the family would be homeless.
This was one of the reasons that kept the national economy in shambles for decades, and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi only finished it off.
Today, Rwanda is among a few countries in the world that has a unique story to tell about gender parity and in particular, the empowerment of women.
There are more women in political institutions with more than 60 per cent in parliament, men and women now have equal opportunities to education, healthcare, business and properties.
Land is considered the main asset for production and investment, and the GMO report argued that land ownership in that sense has been instrumental in contributing to women’s access to finance.
According to the index, women’s access to land tremendously contributed to their control over productive resources and access to loans using land titles as collaterals, highlighting that land contributed to 38 per cent of women’s access to credit.
But how did it come about?
You cannot talk about Rwanda’s gender equality achievement in isolation of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Gender Equality.
This is one of the key moments in the journey of gender equality in the post-genocide Rwanda.
A group of Rwandan women flocked the capital of China to attend what would later become a historical event and the beginning of the journey that would see women and governments recognise the rights of women.
But this was just part of the story, at least in the Rwandan context.
The magic bullet in Rwanda as women experts have testified over the years was the political will ushered in by the government after the liberation of the country, or Kwibohora, as Rwandans love to call it.
It did not start at liberation. During the struggle to liberate the country, women played an active part and as has previously said by President Paul Kagame, who led the same struggle, women had proved that like their male counterparts, they were capable.
So the post-genocide leadership saw women as indispensable partners in development.
In Rwanda attended both conferences and supported the commitments and decisions taken.
“As a country we have come very far in promoting gender equality and women empowerment, we have achieved a lot especially from the legal and policy standpoint, we have laws in place that are gender transformative” said Ernest Niragire, the advocacy and communications coordinator at Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe.
Pro-Femme is an umbrella body that brings together 53 civil society organisations that promote women rights.
Currently, there are 50 per cent female ministers, 45.2 per cent districts’ councils, 66.7 per cent vice mayors and social affairs, 49.7 per cent in judiciary, and 44.3 per cent of community mediators.
Marie Goretti Mbonimpaye, a former Gacaca court judge is one of the few females who started with the Gacaca, a semi-traditional jurisdiction that was set up to exclusively adjudicate on cases related to the Genocide against the Tutsi.
“I am one of the judges whom people entrusted because they knew me as an honest parent. I joined other male judges who also bestowed me with trust and nominated me as the court’s president in the Kanombe Gacaca Court in the current Kicukiro District.,” she said.
Mbonimpaye, currently a community mediator in Kabeza cell, adds that the trust earned – which was unheard of before liberation, inspired her to accomplish her core duties until Gacaca courts ended.
On the other side there is Assistant Commissioner of Police Teddy Ruyenzi, the first female Formed Police Unit Contingent Commander (UNMISS- South Sudan).
She until last week headed a female-dominated contingent of 160 police peacekeepers from Rwanda, deployed under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
“We joined our male colleagues, we have been trained and empowered to this extent that the country appoints a female officer to oversee the contingent in its peacekeeping deployment,” she notes.
It is stories like these that genuinely reflect the journey that the country has moved to promote gender equality and significantly allow women to be active actors in all aspects of the economy.
What enabled this?
Rwanda’s commitment to promote gender equality is enshrined in the constitution.
It promotes principles of gender equality and women’s rights and provides for a minimum 30 per cent quota for women in all decision-making organs.
The country’s efforts to achieve gender parity and women empowerment are reflected in the many legal frameworks that have been put in place.
Rwanda established a political system and put in place a number of laws aimed at increasing capacity of all Rwandan women and removing barriers to enable them to proactively take part in socio-economic activities.
This includes, among others, Vision 2020, National Gender Policy 2010, Sector Gender Mainstreaming Strategies, Girls’ Education Policy 2008, and the National Policy against Gender Based Violence 2011.
Government came up with the national Policy against Gender Based Violence in 2011, with an objective to progressively eliminate gender-based violence through the development of a preventive, protective, supportive and transformative environment.
Advancement of gender sensitivity has been a thread weaved through all the government programmes, something that is bearing results.
In 2016 government enacted the maternity leave law in which female employees would be entitled to a 3 months maternity leave, with full pay.
In the law, government also came up with a maternity leave scheme to be run by Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), where employers and employees would pay a monthly contribution of 0.3 per cent to be paid as salaries for mothers on maternity leave.
To date, Rwf17.9 billion has so far been collected in contributions, and by December 2018, 5,430 mothers had benefited from the scheme.