BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA
Only 15 years after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, Rwanda has risen from the ashes to become a gender-equality trailblazer. The current government sees women as critical stakeholders within the entire national development process.
Fostering broader participation by women as well as mainstreaming gender advocacy within the EDPRS process can have tremendous pay-offs in terms of sustaining and advancing the gains of affirmative action provided for in the Constitution of Rwanda.
Rwanda is making strides towards improving economic governance, through the decentralisation of public service delivery and the involvement of gender in both decision making and policy implementation.
A Cross cutting issue
Rwanda’s long term development strategy (Vision 2020) recognizes gender equality as a cross cutting issue for all sectors. This is also the case with the EDPRS 2008- 2012.
Gender thematic groups support provincial and district authorities and organizations to ensure gender integration as a cross-cutting issue in their operational and organizational plans for development.
Reports from the ministry of Gender and Family Promotion states that there have been fundamentally broad campaigns for raising the awareness with respect to gender issues.
Three pillars and attendant impact indicators
Rwanda’s approach to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is based on three major pillars:
a) Established political will and support.
b) Appropriate mechanisms within government and society at large.
c) Existence of a strong autonomous women’s movement /NGOs.
The literacy rate of the female 15-24 year age group is a core Millennium Development Goal (MDG) indicator that is used as a measure of ascertaining the effectiveness of the universal primary education program. With regards to the 15-24 years age group, gender parity in literacy rate has, as of today, practically been achieved.
The government of Rwanda has made gender parity in the legislature a top priority. The government thus set a target of women representatives to constitute at least 30% of parliamentary representation on the basis of the provisions of the 2003 Constitution.
Consequently, the lower Chamber of Parliament comprises of 56.25% of women representatives with the speaker being a woman.
Although women in the paid labor force in Rwanda primarily work in agriculture and the informal sectors, female employment rate in Rwanda is slowly increasing, with the growing recognition of the central role women play in economic and social development.
Thus, the proportion of women employed in the non-agricultural sector has shown significant improvements in the past few years.
National psyche shifting focus
The dramatic gains for women in parliament can be traced in part to the significant changes in gender roles during and immediately after the genocide. Women were targeted during the genocide based not only upon their ethnicity, but also on their gender.
Rwanda social structures were destroyed, their relationships and traditional networks were severed. Rwandans believe that in their victimization and endurance, women bore the brunt of the genocide and therefore deserve a significant and official role in the nation’s recovery efforts.
Thus it became apparent that there was bound to be an increased participation of women in politics as a necessary input for improved social, economic and political conditions of their families and the entire country.
Consequently the ruling party (Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF) placed many women at the top of its lists of candidates. It has also appointed numerous women to senior government posts.
Gender Based Violence (GBV) remains one of the key challenges within gender mainstreaming activities in Rwanda. This is attributed to certain cultural practices and mindsets that promote discrimination against women.
It is clear that advocacy needs to be sustained to mainly target various target groups (men, youth, and local leaders).Another aspect that exacerbates GBV is the extreme poverty within certain segment of female populations.
High dependency on the males by women has exposed many of them to cases of vulnerability to different forms of abuse and violence. Supporting women leaders to have a strong and tangible impact on national processes such as the EDPRS, in an effort to engender them to respond to women’s critical needs, remains in itself a challenge.
Education sector and gender
The education sector can be used to illustrate a concrete measure to actualize the public discourse on assuring gender rights. The prioritizing the education of girls and women is a key component in assuring the continued economic growth and social well-being of the nation.
Rwanda achieved female and male enrolment parity at the primary level since 2000, meaning that this MDG target has been met 15 years ahead of schedule. As a result of universal access to education, female gross enrolment rate at primary school level has now exceeded male enrolment. Indeed, there are consistently more female than male pupils at almost all stages.
The literacy rate for women improved from 43.5% in 2002 to 76.8% as of 2006. It is expected that the rate improved further with the introduction of mass adult literacy training programmes, where new centres were opened coupled with an increase in the number of trainers of trainers.
Adhering to protocols
In addition, Rwanda has committed itself to international guidelines and protocols by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All as well as the gender guidelines of the African Union.
These guiding documents and international commitments provide a clear indication of Rwanda’s efforts to integrate gender within its strategic development initiatives, particularly within the education sector.
Yet, as the international standards similarly emphasize, efforts to reduce gender imbalances are more often focused on the primary and secondary levels of education. While central to development, such measures still have to encounter barriers related to the protection of gender rights at the level of higher education.
In Rwanda, with its distinct emphasis on building a “knowledge-based, technological” society, the development of higher education institutions becomes a critical component in the process of materializing these priorities that are central to Vision 2020.
Furthermore, given this emphasis, coupled with the high percentage of youth in Rwandan society the demand placed on higher education in the post-genocide setting is extraordinary.
Given the critical space that institutions of higher learning hold in the rebuilding of Rwandan society, it’s expected that in order to ensure the nation’s public commitment to gender priorities, institutions of higher learning must also transform by adopting strategic gender-sensitive measures for students.
At this juncture, Rwanda’s parliament provides a unique opportunity to examine the behavior of a national legislature that has nearly equal representation of men and women in its lower house, and to examine the impact on women parliamentarians on policies related to children and families.
The dramatic gains for women in parliament can be traced in part to the significant changes in gender roles during and immediately after the genocide when women comprised 70 percent of the population.
In 2008 this figure has dropped to 50 percent. Women also head over 35 percent of households, and are considered being the most productive segment of the population. Yet a close examination of the education sector—where social norms and values are institutionalized—shows a pervasive gender imbalance.