When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty, Odda Gasinzigwa; The Chief Gender Monitor spoke with The New Times’ Godfrey Ntagungira about Rwanda’s tremendous achievements in line with the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
The Government of Rwanda is highly committed to the cause of gender equality and women’s empowerment as transpired in the June 2003 National Constitution, the National Gender Policy, the National Gender Machineries, the ratification of CEDAW, implementation of the Beijing Plate form of Action (PFA), the Vision 2020 and the development of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), which highlight Gender as cross cutting issue.
Over the past decades, legislative and policy-making achievements have been registered in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment. They mainly include the National Constitution, Land law, succession law, nationality law, GBV law, electoral law, and labor law.
Developed policies include mainly the Vision 2020, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), National Gender Policy, Decentralization policy, Girl’s Education Policy, and Labor Policy.
Initiatives laying the foundation for the National Gender Budgeting were launched in 2003 but the actual process of engendering national budget started early this year with the sensitization phase targeting the planning officers and budget officers at the levels of Ministries and districts has been completed. Also, the phase targeted relevant commissions and staff from the Parliament and the Civil Society respectively.
The Budget Call Circular (BCC) has been developed and it is gender sensitive with the aim of issuing the national gender budget statement for the 2010-2011 financial years.
Important attention is given to MDG3 as so far gender parity has become a reality in primary education (95.8% for girls and 94.7% for boys) and private universities (52.7% for women and 47.3% for men). Efforts are being made to ensure gender parity in secondary education and public universities through effective implementation of EDPRS.
Also, promulgation of GBV Law and Land Law resulted from government policy discussions and parliamentary debates.
Concerning planning of reconstruction efforts mechanisms have been put in place including Gacaca court jurisdiction (court inspired by traditional ways of trying criminals) to address crime committed during the 1994 genocide, Fund to assist genocide survivals (FARG) in different areas including among others education, economic support and health, and National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC).
Through these mechanisms women have been playing a vital role, as illustrated among others by the appointment of women as heads of the Gacaca (Rwandan Special Judicial Court System lead by the community people) Court and the National Unity and Reconciliation commission.
Globalization has positively affected women’s lives by increased involvement in trade. For example, the use of ICT through Telecenters installed by government in all districts and Internet Cafés established in different urban areas has provided both men and women easy access to business related information. Efforts are being made to reduce risks and to build on opportunities for women through by publicizing.
Memorandums signed between sector Ministries and relevant stakeholders to promote gender equality in specific sectors are another illustration of strong partnership between government and its development partners.
WOMEN AND EDUCATION
Measures have been adopted to advance gender equality at all levels of education. The adoption of the National Gender Policy (2004), the launch of the Universal Primary Education in 2007, the adoption of the Girl’s Education Policy (2008), the promotion of private schools and universities are among other measures that uphold the level of gender equality reached in education in general.
This is illustrated in the gender parity reached at primary education level and the increase of women’s numbers in higher education that rose from 1,283 in 1997 to 15,465 in 2006. It is worth noting that pregnant girls are not expelled out of school and married women can attend school.
Free and compulsory primary education, introduction of Nine Year Basic Education, the multiplication of centres of excellence through FAWE project, TUSEME (let us talk) Clubs at schools, the creation of GBV clubs in secondary and tertiary education, giving awards to girls with best performance in science, construction of more facilities to address the thorny issue of accommodation for women and girls’ students, are among other programs that have boosted women’s participation in education.
Gender parity has become a reality in private universities; FAWE schools have facilitated access to significant numbers of girls to science education. Separate toilets were constructed in 21 out of 30 district primary schools to stop girls’ drop-outs.
FAWE projects and giving awards to girls with best performance in science and Technology by Imbuto Foundation have proved that girls/women can enroll for science and technology usually perceived to be subjects for men.
GENDER AND HEALTH
The Constitution of June, 2003 (Art. 41) stresses that “All citizens have the rights and duties relating to health”. This provision has been translated into action through implementation of the National Health Policy and its strategic plan, and the HIV/AIDS Policy and its strategic plan.
This resulted into awareness rising of the populations reaching an important rate of women (94%) and men (98%) who know and practice at least one contraceptive method.
As an indication of other tremendous improvements that have been made, for example, the rates in contraceptive prevalence with all methods rose from 17% in 2005 to 36% in 2008;
Contraceptive prevalence modern methods: from 10% in 2005 to 275 in 2008; Delivery in Health Centres: from 39% in 2005 to 52% in 2008; Infant Mortality rate: from 86/1000 live births in 2005 to 62/1000 live births in 2008 ; maternal mortality rate: from 1071/100,000 live births in 2000 to 750/100,000 live births in 2006 .
The medical insurance for the populations commonly called “Mutuelles de santé” (in its French version), the program that enables poor people, among whom women are the majority, to access health care services including reproductive health services.
The establishment of “Program National pour Lutter Contre le Paludism (PNLP), a program aimed at fighting malaria: pregnant women were identified as vulnerable group and were provided with bed mosquito nets, which contributed to the decrease of the number of malaria cases in hospitals, from 720,270 in 2005 to 464,823 in 2008, the coverage being 64.7% (more than the Abuja target which is 60%).
Health Advisers (community health workers), are advising pregnant women across the country to visit and deliver at health centres. This has increased assisted delivery, which rose from 39% in 2005 to 52% in 2008 , hence contributing to the decrease of maternal mortality rate from 1071/100,000 live births in 2005 to 750/100,000 live births in 2008.
The National AIDS Control Commission (CNLS) has grown and decentralised its services to the district level and TRAC has been merged with other disease (Tuberculosis and malaria) to become TRAC plus.
This has resulted into significant progress on HIV/AIDS and other disease coordination mechanism. All indicators have increased over the years. For instance according to Rwanda 2009 epidemiologic update using the spectrum estimates, 70% of women in need of PMTCT services are receiving them.
DEVELOPMENT OF GENDER SENSITIVE INDICATORS
Gender sensitive indicators were designed and disseminated by the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) in close collaboration with the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) and the Ministry of Finance and Economic planning (MINECOFIN) to relevant implementers to ensure a gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation process.
This allows the different statistics units at each institution level to produce sex-disaggregated data needed to inform policy making and planning.
Sex-disaggregated data are produced in number of national tools that are periodically updated including the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), Integrated Living Conditions Survey (EICV), EDPRS, to name a few.
Limited sex-disaggregated data is still a serious challenge for a number of institutions but the three institutions mentioned above are working in consultation with relevant stakeholders to ensure production of needed data.
Men and boys have not been left behind by Rwanda Government in its efforts to promote gender equality and to combat HIV/AIDS. HIV voluntary testing includes men, which impacts on women’s health in general and reproductive health in particular has positively marked a great change in sexual behaviors. Another HIV testing involves pregnant women and their husbands. This is a government strategy to help couples know where they stand about HIV/AIDS.
Men involvement rates in PMTCT has gradually increased over the years from 26% in 2004 to 78% in 2008 of the partners who undergone HIV testing during ANC with their wife.
The 2008 world AIDS day (WAD) campaign has put much emphasis on couple testing where a total number of 75,000 couples get tested for HIV. The 2009 WAD campaign aims on breaking silence on condom use with an emphasis to increase availability and access to female condoms in order to empower the women decision on safe sex.
Another strategy for women’s health improvement in which men and boys are involved is community works called “Umuganda”. This contributed to decrease of malaria prevalence through removing bushes near dwelling places.
This is good for women’s health because malaria is one of miscarriage major causes.
WOMEN AND POVERTY REDUCTION
Important progress has been made in poverty reduction interventions. This is demonstrated through the adoption of policies including the Vision 2020, the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), National Agricultural and Livestock Policy and National Gender Policy among others.
Implementation of these important national instruments translated into increased employment opportunities through promotion of job creation and use of relevant technologies for improvement of economic production.
Implementation of measures aimed at fighting poverty were accompanied by successful actions including but not limited to establishment of guarantee fund at the level of each district to grant micro-credit to women grouped into cooperatives; establishing a savings and credit “Banque Populaire” affiliated to the “Union des Banques Populaires” by the Associations of Women Entrepreneurs in Rwanda; establishing a saving and micro-credit cooperative (COOPEDU) by a women’s association, Duterimbere; land consolidation and green revolution, etc.
PROGRAMS AND PROJECTS
Specific commitments have characterized Rwanda Government in its effort to fight poverty and tackle its feminine face.
These include among others, actions programs such as HIMO (High Intensity Labor) and Ubudehe (Shared Labor Initiative) that cover majority of poor households with women being the vast majority among beneficiaries.
In the same line of consideration, projects have been implemented and they include One Cow per Poor Household, Crop intensification, land husbandry, water harvesting and hillside irrigation, banana rehabilitation, market information system, among others.
These projects involve local populations with a sizable number of women who in turn receive income to fight poverty. The rate of participation of women varies between 30% and 50%.
This resulted into women’s poverty decrease from 63.3% in 2001 to 60.2% in 2006 for households headed by women and from 67.7% in 2001to 59.9% in 2006 for households headed by widows.
It is worth mentioning that the program of saving and credit cooperatives, recently introduced in the country, has borne fruits. For example, the Teachers’ Savings and Credits Cooperative, called Umwalimu Sacco, launched in 2008, has already granted loans to 1,084 women (44% of its members).
For women infected or affected by HIV, CNLS with partners have provided income generating activities (IGAs) for the total amount of three billion Rwandan francs, where women represent 75% of the beneficiaries. This is in order to ensure that women are given skills and support to be able to generate income thus avoiding the options of use their bodies as source of income.
They have been encouraged, trained and left sex work and have regained self esteem and position in society,
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Policy and legislative measures: the recently promulgated GBV Law, No 59/2008, the inheritance Law of 1999 and the land Law of 2005 combine to address issues of violence facing men and women, with women being the majority among the victims. Efforts to address violence had been made even previously.
Physical violence against women is, irrespective of the author, third party or husband, is punishable by the Penal Code under articles 310 to 338, which provide for sentences ranging from temporary imprisonment to life imprisonment.
The sensitization campaigns and connsected strategies that led to the attainment of the constitutional “ at least 30%” women’s representation in all decision making organs, the establishment of the Isange One Stop Centre within the National Police Hospital to give a holistic response to GBV survivors, creation of the Gender Desks within the National Police and the Ministry of Defence, establishment of free hot lines telephones (with strong support of telecommunication companies) to facilitate communication within the Ministry of Health, National Police and Ministry of Defence contributed to significant improvement in addressing violence.
Among other successful actions include but they are not limited to creation of Anti-GBV clubs in schools and universities, establishment of GBV Committees at Village level, Malayika Mulinzi (Guardian Angel) Initiative, Ijisho ry’Umuturanyi (The Eye of a Neighbour) Initiative and GBV Week in the Justice Sector.
DECISION MAKING, POLICY AND LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
The Constitutional “at least 30%” women’s representation is considered at many levels of administration. This has been achieved due to measures adopted in form of policies and mechanisms put in place to promote women’s leadership.
Thus, the decentralization policy promotes the representation of women at the various administrative levels: members of the National Women’s Council become automatic members of the consultative committees at the level of the cell, sector, district and Kigali city.
Political parties are required to include at least 30% of women in their list of candidates for the parliamentary elections. The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion which is mainly playing the role of policy formulation and coordination of implementation of gender related activities is significantly contributing for active participation of women in decision making.
The National Women’s Council, which is represented at all levels of administrative entities, is playing a key role in promoting women’s leadership.
Various programs and projects including awareness rising and capacity building programs have contributed to the realization of active participation of women at different levels of decision making as shown by the following figures: at central level Women Senators represent 35%, women parliamentarians represent 56.25%, women Ministers 38% and women State Ministers represent 40%.
In the office of the prosecutor general women represent 20% and 32% in the positions of judicial police at higher courts and judicial police at lower courts. At decentralized level, women executive secretaries of districts represent 17% while women Executive Secretaries of Sectors represent 13%.
WOMEN’S ECONOMIC POWER
In the area of policy and legislative changes, Rwanda has promulgated the Law on matrimonial regimes, liberalities and successions (1999), the land law (2005), the labor laws (2009) which have been very instrumental with regards to economic empowerment of women as it sustains their access to and control over resources.
The National Gender Policy, 2004 came as added asset as it advocates for women’s capacity building and economic empowerment among other approaches, to address the feminine face of poverty.
Implementation of economic empowerment program and related projects translated among other things into establishment of women’s banking fund, greater access for middle class business women to credits availed both by banks and other financing institutions, opening and funding a credit fund at each district to help granting small loans to rural women for their self-promotion.
The strong government support to women’s handcrafts has boosted the economy of thousands of women. Thus, under the government support and guidance, the Agaseke Project (basket weaving project) involves thousands of women (and even men) who have improved their living conditions thanks to income from baskets sells.
COOPEDU, the micro-finance company has granted credits to thousands of women who are excelling in their business.
Given required skills and financial support, women are good business managers.
Role models can play a vital example in promoting women’s participation in business, as women can implement learned lessons more effectively with the support of role models.
WOMEN AND MEDIA
A law on press/media was promulgated in 2002. Implementation of this Law led to important achievements. At present, most papers publish articles on women’s concerns, both in urban and rural areas. “La Voix du Genre”or “Voice of Gender” A club of men and women, aimed at promoting gender equality in media, has been officially launched by the Minister in charge of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF), in 2007.
There is also a specialised paper on the topic: “Urubuga rw’abagore”, or “women’s platform”, found in the paper Kinyamateka, in Focus on Beijing. Also, “The New Times” provides ample space to issues concerning women.
The radio Kinyarwanda drama commonly known under the name of “Ikinamico” is enlightening Rwandan populations on different themes. Promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment is part of the messages that the actors are conveying and it has an impact on education, politics, and business among others.
The creation of the (ARFEM), an association of Rwandan female journalists. This association has been successful in awareness rising for women journalists to join together and ensure promotion of gender equality in media. The government has been providing the association with the assistance requested including capacity building and empowerment for its members.
WOMEN AND ENVIRONMENT
Rwanda has a national policy on environment and a Ministry of State was recently created with an organ specialized in environment, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).
The Organic Law n° 04/2005 of 08/04/2005 determining the modalities of protection, conservation and promotion of the environment has come into effect since 1st May 2005 (O.G. n° 9 of 1 May 2005).
It determines especially the guiding principles for conservation and rational use of environment and natural resources. These are the principles of protection, sustainability of environment, equal opportunities among generations of men and women, among others.
Several conventions on environment have been ratified and projects initiated in the biodiversity sector.
Through the decentralisation policy, vast efforts were made towards integrating women into the local administration committees which play a leading role in defining and implementing environment based policies and action programs.
Through HIMO (high intensity labour) program employs significant women’s labour force in activities related to land management and conservation. The other programs include Ubudehe (community based development program) which employs mainly poor households’ members whose majority are women and are directly connected to environment, construction of radical terraces to protect the soil from erosion, planting trees and construction of supporting walls for erosion paths.
Women are participating in all environmental projects implemented in rural areas and are getting support through “Vision 2020 Umurenge” Programs (VUP).
Energy issue that has repercussions on environment are addressed through use of biogas, energy saving stoves constructed in a sizable number of Rwandan families allowed women to save time they were spending collecting firewood, for other useful activities.
The Kitchen Garden program is also bearing fruits in both supplying families with needed vegetables and protecting environment.
Successful actions: introduction of energy saving stoves that have spared women from spending a lot of time in forests and bushes collecting fire woods. Biogas is also another alternative source of energy that is increasingly being utilized by Rwandan populations whose majority are women.
Rwanda’s patriarchal social structure has been at the base of existing gender imbalances in the country for centuries. Of recent, however, the government of Rwanda has demonstrated strong political will to promote gender equality as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.
The country’s leadership view gender as human rights and development issues. Government’s strong commitment is evidenced by the creation of a Ministry for gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) and other appropriate machineries.