Washington DC - Cherie Blair, the wife to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has commended Rwanda for involving and empowering women to participate in economic development of the country.
Mrs Blair is also the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Speaking at a session under the theme “Empowering Entrepreneurs –Mobilizing Women’s Economic Potential” at the ongoing annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF on Thursday, Blair observed that Rwanda now serves as a case study as a country giving women an opportunity to thrive.
“What strikes me about Rwanda is its leadership; from the President down (to ordinary Rwandans) there is a real commitment to building the country that has come from the worst,” she said.
Citing reforms in the constitution that provides for a 30-percent minimum quota of women in decision making organs, Blair said that this has tremendously impacted positively on society and benefiting women, both at senior and local level.
“Unless you have women representatives in all areas ….those attitudes (against women) are very hard to change,” she said.
Blair, a human rights lawyer, also urged governments to carry out legal reforms to remove legal inequalities between women and men, specifically to remove barriers that make it difficult for women to do business.
“Women have very many obstacles to accessing finance …many women do not have confidence because society has not given them a chance,” she said.
Blair also underscored that greater economic security and independence gives women more control over their lives and a more influential voice in their communities.
Sharing the Rwandan experience on empowering women, John Rwangombwa, the Minister of Finance, underscored that government has carried out extensive legal reforms, put in place regulations and institutions to empower women to participate in the wider economy.
“The most important thing is commitment from government to remove obstacles - our history has taught us to work together to address challenges,” he said.
Specifically to empower women economically, Rwangombwa mentioned that government has gone ahead to establish women guarantee funds that facilitate women to easily access finance.
He also pointed out that the recently approved Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) policy will largely benefit women as they constitute the majority of the population.
According to the World Bank, only 20 of 128 economies surveyed in a recent study have equal legal rights for women and men.
However the Bank says new research has shown that giving women more secure property rights in Africa could have a significant impact on their ability to raise money and grow their businesses.