Gender equality: How far have Rwandan women come?

WHILE addressing the summer summit of the Women in Parliament (WIP) Global Forum held in Kigali in July this year, President Paul Kagame said that women's 64 per cent representation in Rwanda's Lower House should not be seen as an end in itself with regard to gender equality and women empowerment in the country.
To economically empower themselves, Rwandan women have taken to establishing their own mini enterprises. (File photo)
To economically empower themselves, Rwandan women have taken to establishing their own mini enterprises. (File photo)

WHILE addressing the summer summit of the Women in Parliament (WIP) Global Forum held in Kigali in July this year, President Paul Kagame said that women’s 64 per cent representation in Rwanda’s Lower House should not be seen as an end in itself with regard to gender equality and women empowerment in the country.

This, he said, had been a natural result of conscious efforts to remove the obstacles that prevented Rwandans, including women, from using their talents and abilities to full potential. 

Promotion of gender equality, which is the third of the eight Millennium Development Goals, spans across various aspects that affect women’s lives from access to education, to accessing finance to participation in decision making processes, amongst other aspects.

Reports and rankings by renowned organisations such as Gender Equity Index (GEI), a social watch network and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), indicate that the country has registered progress under the various gender equality indicators and a closer scrutiny at the indicators over recent years shows that the progress has had a trickledown effect.

Access to finance

A reliable indicator on the status of gender equality in the country is the accessibility of finances for women willing to get into entrepreneurship.

Innocent Bulindi, the Chief Executive of Business Development Fund, a company affiliated to the Development Bank of Rwanda that supports small and medium enterprises access loans and also provides advisory services, says that there has been a notable improvement of the percentage of women applying for and getting loans .

“We have seen quite a number of loan applications from women grow significantly over the last few years. There has been a lot of improvement as more women are aware of the platforms and group facilities and they are taking more of group finances and loans,” Bulindi says.

Roselyn Mukantabana, a 53-year-old mother of four who runs a retail and wholesale outlet in Kisementi can testify to the transformation in women’s access to finance. She says in the past women had a hard time accessing capital.

“Women have increasingly been liberated from dependency and poverty not by handouts but by being given opportunities to access finances and capital in form of loans,” Mukantabana says.

The business woman says previously, due to lack of tangible collateral or security,  while accessing loans, few financial institutions would be willing to finance women’s enterprises, but with the various initiatives (private and public) put up recently to act as credit guarantees, the tide has turned.

Education

Statistics from the Ministry Of Education show that there is almost an equal gender participation in education — a development that was rare in the past with odds stacked against girls.

In 2012, the Ministry Of Education recorded 97.5 per cent enrollment for girls at primary level and another big percentage at secondary level.

Going by a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report published in the same year, Rwanda has the highest enrollment rates in primary education in Africa. The country has also registered success in observing gender parity; with girls’ net enrolment rate of 98 per cent compared with 95 percent for boys.

Employment opportunities

Accessing opportunities in quality education has made way for an almost gender balanced workforce with women being as qualified as men. Patrick Nkuranga runs an ICT firm which has options for both sexes during the hiring process.

“Women are not only filling up job positions, they are also increasingly taking positions in board rooms. Previously women in such positions would be viewed as somewhat special but now it is a common sight,” Nkuranga says.

He adds that previously a majority of women or girls got as far as levels such as personal assistants, secretaries and receptionists while the men did the ‘real jobs’ but that long ceased to be the case; they now brush shoulders with men.

Inheritance

Equality in inheritance is currently a work in progress.  In pursuit of equality in this aspect, a bill is currently being debated by Rwandan lawmakers, aiming at seeing to it that heirs of both sexes have no limitation to inheriting property from family and guardians.

“Draft law regarding matrimonial regimes, family donations and successions was introduced due to many problems that were caused by the difficulty in implementing the existing law regarding matrimonial regimes, family donations and successions, ” the bill’s explanatory note reads.

Further in recognition of past ‘injustices’ the bill proposes immediate implementation once it is signed into law.In order to solve the issue of females who were unable to inherit the property of their deceased parents when a law allowing them to be heirs was not yet in force, it was recommended that this law becomes immediately applicable. This means that all cases pending before courts shall be adjudicated in accordance with this law, the bill proposes.

The ball in the women’s court

However even as the various players have conducted and run initiatives to level the platforms of the sexes, there is probably a need in mindsets of some women who are not experiencing the tide’s turn.

During the recent intake into the University of Rwanda, the number of women/girls applying for places was worrying. Women made only 30 per cent of the total applicants leading the institution’s management to embark on a research through the centre of gender studies. The institution’s deputy vice chancellor described the situation as ‘alarming’.

In a previous interview with The New Times, Dr Marie Christine Gasingirwa, the Director General of Science, Technology and Research in the Ministry of Education, diagnosed part of the ailment as mindsets and culture lag of female students which led them to go for short and simpler courses.

“There are mindsets and cultural lag that hold back girls; they tend to go for short courses or other simpler courses. Those who dare to join campus perform better than boys do, the constitution however gives them an equal opportunity,” Dr Gasingirwa said.

How milestones have been covered

The national women’s council Executive Secretary, Christine Tuyisenge says that Rwanda as a country has a gender equality approach, where they regularly conduct situation analysis to identify gender gaps and propose affirmative action to fill them.

Oda Gasinzigwa, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotions, says that while seeking solutions to gender equality challenges, the government employs broad approaches that are more inclusive to the whole society rather than what only affects women. That way, she says, gains are more sustainable.

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