Women: The formidable force powering Rwanda’s transformation journey

Rwanda is now known as a nation of prosperity, from being a nation totally destroyed by the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

In just 25 years, it has turned out to be a resilient and fast-growing economy. The country has put its people and their wellbeing at the forefront of is development, restoring hope to a society that had given up on life.

Thanks to the leadership in place, the future even looks much brighter. As a country with 52 per cent of its 12 million population being women, it is no doubt that the secret of all these achievements is primarily linked with its unique choice –to empower women.

On March 8, each year, the world marks the International Women’s Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also emphasises a call to action to accelerate gender parity.

As we celebrate Rwanda’s journey, it is worth looking at the following tangible facts on Rwanda’s women empowerment undertakings and how they contributed to the country’s remarkable transformation.

1. Political participation and decision-making: Rwanda’s constitution provides for gender-inclusion. It stipulates a minimum of 30 per cent quota for women in all decision-making positions. Currently, women make 61per cent of Rwanda’s parliament - the world’s highest. The country also has 50 per cent of women in the cabinet; and an average of 40 per cent in local administration councils. This has placed them at the forefront of the overall national leadership and decision-making echelons.

2. Education: Before 1994, girls’ societal role was limited to child-bearing household chores. The presumption was they were not fit for school. Rwanda today, not only emphasises education-for-all but also conducts continuous campaigns to ensure girls of school-going age are in class acquiring an education. As a result, school enrollment has reached 98 per cent for girls, even higher than that of their male counterparts at 97 per cent. In every primary and secondary school, a special room known as “Icyumba cy’Umukobwa” has been established and equipped with all the tools necessary to help girls stay in school. This move is a result of the absenteeism attributed to menstrual cycles. Deliberate efforts are also in place to encourage girls to take on science subjects that were earlier reserved for boys. And, with equal access to scholarships and prestigious universities, Rwanda girls, from all walks of life, are living their dream. 

3. Health: Rwanda has put in place tangible measures to ensure quality healthcare access to all, especially women. For example, the nation has been the first low-income country to provide free universal access for the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Additionally, the Mutual Health Insurance has greatly reduced infant and maternal mortality. In turn, women make the majority of more than 45,000 community health workers who greatly contribute to the betterment of health systems at grassroots levels.
4. Legal Framework: Rwanda has made tangible advances to ensure a legal framework that is favorable for women, for their maximum protection and empowerment including equal rights to land, equal opportunities and equal pay for men and women, prohibition of any form of gender-based discrimination, and punishment of household and gender-based violence. In line with the latter, ISANGE One Stop-Centre has been introduced at each Police station, and each health center is equipped to run an ISANGE programme. This programme has proven to be an outstanding model of response to violence against women or gender-based violence (GBV), providing a holistic response to GBV under one roof, in order to minimise the risk of re-victimisation, tampering of evidence and delayed justice. All these provisions contribute to making Rwanda one of the top countries to be born a girl.

5. Economic development:  Rwanda currently has the world’s highest rate of female labor force participation of 86 per cent as highlighted by the World Economic Forum in 2018. Statistics also show that women contribute 30 per cent of the GDP and female entrepreneurship accounts for 42 per cent of enterprises countrywide, and 58 per cent of informal businesses according to International Finance Corporation. In addition, women are given special access to finance from both public and private financing institutions. For example, the Business Development Fund (BDF) facilitates women to access capital for their business ventures by providing a 75 per cent coverage on due collateral.

In the latest 2018’s Annual Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda ranked the first in Africa and sixth globally in having closed its gender gap, beating many of the world’s developed nations.

Looking at Rwanda’s continued rapid socio-economic transformation, especially through the lens of the above choices, it goes without saying that women are the engine that is propelling the country’s development.

To fellow Rwandans, let’s take this opportunity to thank women for their unprecedented role in building the “Rwanda We Want”.

Prof.  Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi is a Political Science Expert, and Patrice Habinshuti an International Development Expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.