From Beijing to New York: How far has Rwanda come on women status?

Next month, the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York, and the main focus will be a review of progress made in implementing the 1995 Beijing declarations.
A female police officer returns from a peacekeeping mission. (File)
A female police officer returns from a peacekeeping mission. (File)

Next month, the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York, and the main focus will be a review of progress made in implementing the 1995 Beijing declarations.

During the Beijing conference, member states resolved to tackle 12 critical areas to improve the welfare of a woman by 2015. The areas of focus include poverty eradication, education, healthcare, human rights, media, violence against women, power and decision making.

Rwanda will present a progress report title Beijing plus 20, during the-11 day conference that starts on March 9.

The report that highlights the progress also cites challenges that stand in the way of improving the status of women.

Decision making

According to the report, Rwanda has achieved a lot in as far as putting in place laws, policies that have resulted in increased participation of women in decision-making.

“For instance, women constitute 50 per cent of the judiciary, 39 per cent cabinet, 40 per cent provincial governors, 43.2 per cent of district council members and 83.3 per cent of vice mayors in charge of social affairs,” the report states.

Today, Rwanda leads the world in terms of women’s representation in parliament, increasing from 56.3 per cent in 2008 to 64 per cent in 2013 elections.

GBV fight

The New York meeting will also hear that Rwanda has established several rehabilitation centers for gender-based violence (GBV) victims. They provide free 24-hour medical, psycho-social counseling, legal, and safe housing services for victims of violence.

“Toll free telephone lines that facilitate quick emergency reporting, information access and rapid response to GBV cases are also in place,” says Redempter Batete, the Director Gender Promotion at the Ministry of Gender & Family Promotion, during a preparation workshop for the forth coming meeting.

In 2006, Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre was set up to coordinate the engagement of men and boys in promoting gender equality. It is a key driver in fighting GBV by changing the patriarchal mind set in the community.

The report adds that Rwandan women play a key role in promoting peace, unity and reconciliation throughout the post-genocide reconstruction and recovery process.

Women were appointed to head key institutions intended to handle post-genocide reconciliation such as the Unity and Reconciliation Commission and Gacaca courts where they constituted over 30 per cent of the more than 160,000 judges countrywide.

At international level, Rwandan women have played a significant role in UN peacekeeping missions, as peacekeepers and as police and military observers, in Sudan, South Sudan, Haiti, Ivory Cost, Liberia, Mali and Central African Republic.

“For instance, from 2005 to May 2014, at least 446 women police officers had served in UN and AU peacekeeping missions, and by June last year 200 female army officers were serving in peacekeeping missions,” said Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor.

Chief Gender Monitor, Rose Rwabuhihi. (File)

While women are still under-represented in the top echelons of police and military command structures, the number of commissioned officers is growing. This is as a result of a deliberate policy of recruitment and encouragement by government for women to join the forces. For instance by 2012, there were 137 female commissioned officers in Rwanda National Police, as compared to only 50 before 2009.

Poverty eradication

Rwanda has made a lot of effort to lift the people from extreme poverty, paying particular attention to women, who form the majority of the poor.

Figures to be presented at the UN conference show that the percentage of female-headed households in poverty fell by 13 per cent in five years from 60.2 per cent in 2005/6 to 47 per cent in 2010/11.

About 98 per cent of Rwandan women now receive antenatal care from skilled providers and over 69 per cent births occur in health facilities, assisted by a skilled people.

In addition, the increased use of mobile technologies and rapid SMS for emergency labour and other medical complications have resulted in considerable decrease of maternal and infant mortality rates. For example the maternal mortality rate decreased from 750/100,000 live births in 2005/6 to 476/100,000 in 2010/11.

Women have the rights to modern contraceptive use and advice if they are 21 years or older. Contraceptive prevalence rate increased from 4.3 per cent in 2000 to 47.7 per cent in 2012.

Popular radio plays such as Urunana and Musekeweya pass on critical information and behavior change messages most times in line with sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and HIV prevention.


The report however points out that women still constitute the majority of the poor with about 47 per cent of women-headed households poor, compared to the 44 per cent national average.

“Women are also predominantly employed in subsistence farming compared to men and continue to bear the burden of unpaid care and household work which limits their involvement in productive activities and, thereby reducing their income levels and pushing them deeper in poverty,”added Batete.

Women and girls’ access to science and technology and tertiary education in public institutions remains low. By 2012, the number of women in public tertiary institutions was 33.4 per cent, compared to 54.7 per cent in private schools and universities.

“Teenage pregnancies are still relatively high, so a lot has to be done in line with sexual reproduction health education,” said Jozef Maerien, a representative of the United Nations Population Fund.