Women need to be at the centre of all development initiatives, policies and programmes since they account for more than a half of the world’s population, activists and officials said yesterday.
This, they said would ensure equitable and sustainable development.
The remarks were made at the opening of a conference on Gender Equality, yesterday, in Kigali.
The three-day-conference, held under the theme, “From theory to practice,” aims at spreading best-practices in promoting gender equality.
It also presented a forum for policy makers, gender advocates and civil society to exchange information on approaches to initiatives designed to close gender gaps.
Opening the conference, Espérance Nyirasafari, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, said Rwanda has over the past two decades seen significant progress in gender equality and women empowerment, which she attributed to the country’s good leadership and strong political will.
Gender equality, she said, is now a cross-cutting issue that has been integrated in all national development frameworks, which has helped in registering a number of achievements.
Some of these achievements include the revised law governing land which grants equal rights between women and men on land access, ownership and utilisation.
The land reform allowed 26 per cent of women to own land and 54 per cent to own land with their spouses.
“Land ownership is one of the critical and historical transformative opportunities that have been achieved for women economic empowerment in Rwanda, it has allowed poor and traditionally marginalised women to be able to access loans,” Nyirasafari said.
Financial inclusion for Rwandan women increased from 36 per cent in 2012 to 62.9 per cent in 2016.
Women representation in decision making positions has greatly increased. Women representation in the Lower House stands at 64 per cent, from 48 per cent in 2003.
Women have continued to play an important role in community mediation structures, the minister said.
She, however, noted that much more remains to be done in the gender agenda.
“Some cultural and religious beliefs and poverty remain a key constraint, while women’s limited skills and capacity for liability are some of the existing challenges,” she said.
The minister called for joint efforts to ensure that women and girls are regarded as equal partners with men in shaping a bright future.
‘Gender equality is smart economics’
The representative of UN Women Rwanda, Fatou Lo, added to Nyarasafari’s voice, saying more efforts are needed if nations are to acquire gender parity.
“It takes accountability, political will, financial means, and consistent accountability. When we talk about economics, it goes beyond equations and formula and policies because at the end of the day it is about the people,” she said.
Lo said persistent and deep seated inequalities which are not easy to detect need to be addressed.
“Change that takes time, a change in the mindset, in the cultural patriarchy because this is the root cause of inequality,” she said.
“It is our role to put gender at the centre and tackle it from different angles, to make sure that we are actually going down to the root and not just treating the symptoms,” Lo said.
The UN Women director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Izeduwa Derex-Briggs, emphasised that it is crucial for all stakeholders to come together from time to time to exchange knowledge and make bold steps toward achieving gender equality.
Although communities have recognised the need to make gender equality a reality, commitments don’t automatically become achievements, it takes political will, ownership of all stakeholders, resources and accountability,” she said.
In Africa, economic empowerment is one area that still faces a large gender gap. Women are just getting to earn what their male counterparts earned in 2006.
Across Africa, women also represent 79 per cent of agricultural workforce but constitute only 24 per cent of agribusiness owners.
Nadine Umutoni, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, said that women have contributed a lot in the transformation of the country, adding that continued empowerment will help fast-track the country’s development.
Rwanda ranks fourth worldwide in closing the gender gap, according to latest report by the World Economic Forum, released yesterday.
At the top of the Global Gender Gap Index is Iceland, which closed nearly 88 per cent of its gap. Norway comes in second, Finland third, then Rwanda (4) and Sweden (5).