This month, we join the global community and the people of Rwanda, in particular, in celebration of the progress made towards women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality in general. This year’s celebrations in Rwanda kicked off with a memorable and colourful ceremony at Ngoma District, Eastern Province, on Sunday, March 08, 2015, under the patronage of the Right Honourable Prime Minister.
The ceremony was appropriately combined with the Tenth Edition of Imbuto Foundation’s presentation of awards to the best performing girls in national exams in the context of its commendable scheme for promoting excellence among girls. This is appropriate because sustaining the significant gains Rwanda has made towards the important development goals of gender equity and empowerment of women will require, among other things, particular attention to the nurturing of young girls. Awards were presented during yesterday’s ceremony to 40 top performing girls and in the course of the month, 420 primary and secondary school girls will be recognized countrywide as well.
At yesterday’s ceremony, cows were handed to 38 women, most of them vulnerable, by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and the National Women’s Council. This is perfectly in line with the need to progressively place more emphasis on the economic empowerment of women as well as with the Government’s accelerated poverty reduction strategy.
This year’s global theme for the International Women’s Day is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity, Picture it!”. This is a reaffirmation of the fundamental message that promotion of gender equity and empowerment of women benefits the entire humanity. No society could hope to fully realize its development potentials if women and girls are constrained from fully realizing their rights and aspirations in all spheres of life.
In the words of President Paul Kagame: “No one benefits if women are held back. We have to change mind sets, not just laws. In Rwanda, more women than ever before are serving in positions of responsibility and leadership in government and in the work place. These role models, in turn, shape the expectations and the missions of the next generations”.
It is also auspicious that this year the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. There is broad consensus that this Platform still constitutes the world’s best agenda and road map for promoting gender equality and empowerment of women. This anniversary, therefore, provides us with an important opportunity to reflect upon, and appreciate the significant progress that has been made towards gender equity, both globally and in Rwanda and the remaining challenges that need to be addressed.
In Rwanda, twenty years after the 1994 genocide, there is a lot to celebrate in the area of the promotion of gender equity and empowerment of women, as in many other domains of development. Among other things, the attainment of 65% female representation in Parliament, compared to an average of 21% for the rest of the world, 40 % of Cabinet Seats being held by women Ministers, high representation of women among provincial governors and senior civil servants as well as their strong presence in the business sector, science and technology and culture, should be celebrated with a lot of joy and pride.
The visionary leadership of H.E. President Paul Kagame, which has ensured that conducive policy and legal frameworks for mainstreaming gender in all the socio-economic sectors are in place at all levels underpinned by a National Gender Policy, gender sensitive laws such as the Gender- Based Violence law, Inheritance law, Land Law, etc, has a lot to be commended for this notable progress.
But even as we celebrate the immense achievements made by Rwanda in the promotion of gender equity, we are also aware, as is the Government, that certain critical challenges need to be addressed and some areas reinforced. For instance, even though gender parity in primary education has been achieved, completion rates and the quality of education still pose some challenges. It is imperative that an increasing phenomenon of premature pregnancies among young girls be nipped in the bud. There is also need to accelerate and expand the economic empowerment schemes for women that the Government has already launched, with support from Development Partners like the One UN.
Importantly also, despite the fact that Rwanda has put in place robust laws and facilities like the One-Stop Centers to protect women from violence, sexual and gender-based violence continue to occur on a significant scale.
It is for these reasons that the commendable schemes of the Imbuto Foundation and other NGOs that are aimed at promoting excellence among girls and empowering them need to be encouraged, supported by a wide range of partners, and Government’s gender, health and educational policies be further strengthened with continued attention to the special needs of young girls and women in order to protect and deepen in the post-2015 era the immense gains the country has made towards empowerment of women and gender parity.
That is why the One UN Rwanda Team, working closely with the other Development Partners, notably Sweden, Netherlands and UK, will redouble its support to the Government and people of Rwanda in their efforts to fully realize the promises made in Beijing 20 years ago, because that will ensure that the country continues to grow from strength to strength.
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator in Rwanda