Today we join the global community in celebrating and recognizing the efforts, achievements, resilience, potential and struggle of all the women in our global family.
Historically, dated social norms have enclosed and prevented women from fulfilling their potential and equally contributing to the sustainable and equitable development of our societies. Yet women working closely with like-minded men have remained focused and have broken down the walls of their subjugation.
To fully appreciate the present, we need to take a step back and reflect on history. The International Women’s Day came because of labor movements at the start of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. These movements sought to challenge the poor working hours, low pay and absence of voting rights that women faced, which led to the establishment of the first National Women’s Day in 1909. Realizing the urgency to end all forms of discrimination that women faced, UN Member States committed to the Charter of the United Nations signed in 1945, which was recognized as the first inter-governmental agreement to advocate and put in place mechanisms for equality between men and women. The UN Charter was then followed by global commitments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979, the 1993 declaration on ending violence against women (VAW), the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the set of UN Security Council resolutions on women and peace and security. The global normative framework to promote women’s rights was matched at the regional level and in most countries by equally important sets of conventions, laws and policies demonstrating a strong political will to address gender inequality.
Despite some encouraging results under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), gender equality and women empowerment remain an unfinished business. Therefore, the Agenda 2030 recognizes that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
The support and commitment of the global community to empower women and girls proves that our collective mission is truly achievable and should be expedited. It is a known fact that when all members of the society are empowered and given the basic human right to equal opportunities, we all benefit and as a result come closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. As H.E. President Paul Kagame said “Any place that does not make gender equality a priority, is probably getting other important things wrong too.” (International Women’s Day Unity Club Gala, Kigali, 2015).
This year, at the global level, the International Women’s Day will be celebrated under the theme “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. The efforts made towards a gender equal society have never been as strong as what we can witness today. We are in a point of history where we can directly impact the lives of women not only in urban but also in rural settings, much harder to reach in the past.
Rural women make up over a quarter of the world`s population and a majority of the agricultural work force. Rural women have traditionally been let furthest behind: in education, in health, in access to productive resources such as quality land, affordable financing, time-saving technology and labor saving technology. Their work is not always recognized despite their important contribution to rural economies and they are usually excluded from the benefits of economic growth.
Globally, women still earn 21 % less than their male counterparts, for the same work, but for rural women that number is as high as 40 %. To truly “leave no one behind” we need to continue the advocacy, increase the interventions aiming at including women as decision makers, economic actors, game changers, and do more to leverage on the existing momentum to expedite the realization of the Agenda 2030. Achieving goal 5 on Gender equality could yield one of the highest leverage effect on the other goals.
In Rwanda, the theme for this year’s IWD is “Rwandan women, let’s pursue efforts to build the Rwanda we want.” Rwanda has become a global example in achieving gender parity at all levels. With the world admirably recognizing the 64% of women parliamentarians and over 45% in Cabinet, Rwanda serves as a benchmark for the representation of women in leadership positions. We are all proud of Rwanda being ranked 4th globally in the World Economic Forum 2017 Gender Gap Report. Of course, all the figures will not translate correctly the importance of women’s roles in Rwanda. Therefore, we should pay tribute not only on the 8th March but every day to Rwandan women for their remarkable contribution to rebuilding the nation.
For a country with a bold ambition of moving towards an upper middle-income country status in 2035 and high income in 2050, as stated in vision 2050 and in the National Strategy for Transformation (NST1) 2017-2024, further investing in gender equality and women empowerment would be both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
According to the IMF, Rwanda’s GDP growth rate has averaged about 2.2 % points above the EAC and the sub-Saharan African average over the period of 2005-2014. The results highlight that both female legal equity and gender equality in opportunities and the labor market have contributed ½ % points to this growth differential . Growth gains from further lowering gender inequality could also be significant. Specifically, reducing gender inequality in Rwanda to levels observed in benchmark countries in Latin America and ASEAN countries could boost per capita GDP by nearly 0.5% highlighting another avenue for development in addition to improving infrastructure and human capital accumulation.
At national level, women are well represented in leadership positions. The question is how to increase the representation of women in leadership positions at the local level and at managerial levels in private companies? Attract more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, in boosting innovations? How to ensure that more women are economically empowered? In Rwanda, the gender pay gap stands at 11%. How do we leverage movements such as the HeForShe to bring more men and more boys as allies and actors for women’s empowerment?
These are some of the key questions at the center of the journey towards gender equality. As the country has embarked on a 7-year National Strategy for Transformation (NST1), seeking to create 1.5 million jobs, strengthen the local manufacturing and mining sector, position the country as a financial services hub, and enhance regional integration, it is critical to ensure that the gender gap is closed and women play a pivotal role. Overall, it is crucial that inequalities and vulnerabilities continue to be tackled in order to transform the society.
The ONE UN family remains committed to supporting the Government of Rwanda and national actors in ensuring that Gender Equality is effectively mainstreamed at all levels. Our new United Nations Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP 2018-2023), aligned with NST1 and national priorities, and building on what has been achieved together so far, provides the required framework of action. The UN will keep on leveraging on the expertise of different UN Agencies to address the key economic barriers that women residing in urban and rural areas face and contribute to improve their lives and build more hope at community level and in the society. We have aimed to do this through the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress Towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (JPRWEE)’ in collaboration with the Imbuto Foundation; The Joint Women and Youth Employment Programme which helps vulnerable women farmers in increasing their production capacities by enhancing their social and financial capital as well as providing them with farm inputs and equipment. The Green Economy Initiative which contributes to the Government’s action to scale up green villages across the country.
Through our close collaboration with the Government and all national partners, we will continue to advocate, support policies and strategies, implement programmes, build capacity and share knowledge, including through South-South and triangular cooperation. Our goal is to ensure that men and women, young and old, realize their full potential in the spirit of leaving no one behind and contribute to a peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.
Thus, we strongly urge all development partners, public and private sector institutions, and the citizens of the Republic of Rwanda to continue to actively contribute to the great progress we have made in the empowerment of women and girls.
As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres puts it in his message on the 2018 International Women’s Day, “Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”
Happy International Women’s Day to all the women in Rwanda. Turi kumwe! Abishyize hamwe ntakibananira!