Gender equality and women empowerment (GEWE) lies at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which recognizes that achieving gender equality is a matter of human rights and is crucial to progress across all the goals and targets.
Gender equality refers to the equal rights, opportunities and outcomes for girls and boys and women and men. It does not mean that women and men are the same, but their rights, responsibilities and opportunities do not depend on whether they are born female or male (OSAGI 2001).
There has been a general tendency throughout history to exclude women and girls from active participation in development processes and to treat them as passive recipients of development assistance, with little or no recognition of their rights and voice.
This is not only a human rights violation, but it is also a practice that sets back the development of our countries. The 2016 Africa Human Development Report indicated that African economies would benefit immensely if women’s access to paid work was equal to that of men.
The report also estimated that the economic costs of gender gaps in the labor market between 2010 and 2014 were nearly $95 billion annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone—equivalent of about 6 % of GDP, which is almost twice the amount of official development assistance that goes to the continent.
Furthermore, a recently published study by the International Labour Organization estimates that reducing gender gaps in the labor market could increase global employment by 189 million, or 5.3 %, by 2025 (ILO 2017), raising global GDP in 2025 by 3.9%, or $5.8 trillion.
Rwanda has been a path setter in many aspects of gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE). Today, the country leads in women representation in the Parliament (61%) and Cabinet (50%).
These achievements are often attributed to the country’s political will and commitment to GEWE in all areas which is further demonstrated by the ratification of all international and regional instruments on gender equality and their domestication into national legislation and policies.
The President of the Republic, who also is a global HeForShe champion, H.E Paul Kagame, has recognised the importance of gender equality to development and has led several reforms aimed at levelling the balance.
The country has put in place policy and regulatory frameworks to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, article 9 of law N° 66/2018 of 30th /08/2018 regulating labor in Rwanda prohibits all forms of discrimination including sex discrimination at the workplace.
While Rwanda’s impressive achievements to date are duly recognized, there is also general acceptance that there are areas requiring further attention. For example, data show that women are, on average, being paid 13 % less than men in Rwanda.
(Globally, the International Labour organization (2018) estimates that women earn on average 23 % less than men). This is partly resulting from the fact that men spend more time on economic activities and less time on domestic activities compared to women.
It is common knowledge that across the globe and particularly in lesser developed countries, women have to spend many more hours than men attending to family responsibilities such as child care which reduces the time they spend on economic activities.
In fact, according to the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV) 2014, women spend 25 hours per week on domestic duties and 28 hours per week on economic activities while men spend only 8 hours per week on domestic duties and 35 hours per week on economic activities.
Moreover, the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) labor force survey of 2017 indicated that 8 % of women stopped working due to pregnancy and family responsibilities.
Another factor that keeps women’s pay lower than men’s is that men are more likely to negotiate for higher wages than women due to societal gender stereotypes where women are expected to be accommodating and more concerned with the welfare of others than their own.
Considering that women’s employment and earnings are important assets for their bargaining power, which is a key factor in gender equality within the family and in the labor market and society at large, more investments are needed to ensure the economic empowerment of women.
This will require measures to change current power dynamics and social stereotypes including ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
The key objective is not only to ensure equal remuneration, including benefits, for work of equal value, but changing the underlying factors that impede women’s full and equal participation in the work place.
As the UNDP Administrator stated: “When women are left out of the conversation, they’re excluded from creating the innovations shaping our future. He added: “Clearly, we still have a long way to go, and we must be innovative in exploring new ways of working and thinking”.
While the public sector is quickly accelerating the implementation of GEWE commitments, the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) cannot be achieved if the private sector, as the engine of the economy, does not also mainstream gender equality.
In response to this pressing priority, UNDP Rwanda in collaboration with the Gender Monitoring Office, UNWOMEN, and the Rwanda Private Sector Federation, have initiated the Gender Equality Seal certification programme.
This is a new initiative that seeks to support the private sector to achieve sustainable development by reducing gender gaps and promoting both gender equality in the workplace and women’s economic empowerment.
The Chief Gender Monitor, who is a major champion of the programme, recognizes the important role of the private sector in NST1 and has called on the sector to embrace gender equality as a fundamental human right and a national priority.
In a recent Gender Seal training workshop, she implored the private sector representatives to give equal opportunities to both men and women to participate fully in the workforce, noting that this would not only be a great contribution to improving the lives of employees but also a strategy to increase organizational productivity and sustain economic returns.
The Private Sector Federation (PSF) has also expressed its commitment to work with their member companies on integrating the gender equality seal in their businesses. The PSF recognizes the importance of ensuring gender equality at the workplace so that all employees can access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of their gender.
For UNDP Rwanda and partners, mainstreaming gender in the private sector will make the private sector stronger and enable the country to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.
There are many international studies and research done on this, and they all show that when companies adopt measures to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment, those companies not only have better financial performance than their peers, but they have a higher rate of staff retention, as well as more motivated and engaged staff.
The Gender Seal programme is about helping companies to review every aspect of their business practices and policies to see where there are opportunities to improve gender equality. All over the world we see many people in the workplace who have ability but who don’t get the opportunity to realize their potential.
This is sometimes because of their race, their gender, or other forms of discrimination. The Gender Seal programme is one contribution to help fix this situation.
The gender equality seal calls upon the leaders of private companies to: ‘Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change’ as per the theme of the 2019 International Women Day celebration. To do so, companies need to tackle six critical dimensions of their businesses to improve gender equality: (1) Eliminate gender-based violence, (2) Increase women’s role in decision-making, (3) Improve work-life balance, (4) Enhance women and men’s access to non-traditional jobs, (5) Eradicate sexual harassment at work and (6) Use inclusive, non-sexist communication.
As of today, 38 companies including two public institutions, the Central Bank of Rwanda and The Rwanda Development Board, have signed up to join the gender equality seal initiative, and 10 of these companies are already piloting the initiative.
It is expected that the gender equality seal will bring significant gains to companies’ productivity and profitability while enabling men and women at the workplace to have equal access to opportunities and live more productive and enjoyable lives.
From the initial diagnosis conducted by the participating companies, they have identified the existing gender gaps along the six pillars mentioned above. The programme also provides the companies with technical assistance to devise strategies to eliminate the identified gaps.
As more companies begin to follow the example of these pilots, we will get closer to a society in which the workplace is free from any type of gender inequality.
As we mark International Women’s Month, UNDP Rwanda reiterates its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment. This is something we are working on internally within our office as well as externally through all the programmes we support in Rwanda.
Together, we can make the change we want to see, we can build the “World We Want”, we can prepare a strong legacy for the next generation. Let us be the game changers!!
The writer Head of Transformational Governance Unit- UNDP.