Most rural African women need the ‘consent’ of a husband to start any business venture. In some countries, a single woman may need a judge’s decision on matters concerning owning or starting a business.
As a result only a small number of commercial businesses are run by women in sub- Saharan Africa. Rwanda however, has no such limitations and according to a World Bank report (2008), women run more than 41 percent of small businesses.
At the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA) all investors are treated equally irrespective of sex, thus encouraging women to participate.
Rwanda is defying all odds although the early years exposed and defined women as the weaker sex which is completely inferior to men. This view was passed on through different myths or theories from one generation to the next.
In some ancient civilisations however, there were powerful women for example; Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as Pharaoh in 1479 BC, Queen Elizabeth I ruled England for 45 years (1558) and Catherine the Great who ruled Russia in the 18th Century.
Nevertheless, their inspiring power did not change the perspective the world had about women. In fact in African society, women continued to suffer ridicule, persecution and defeat.
As a matter of fact, most of the literature that has been published by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on issues concerning development has correctly presented a woman as the poorest person living in sub-Saharan Africa.
The African situation also poses a violation of human rights and women stand at the forefront as the most vulnerable, especially when we think of rape, mistreatment, deprivation, suffering and any other form of humiliation. For some, the future completely depends on the fortunes of their husbands or even their male relatives.
Despite the above, women should not continue to feature in weak positions anymore but as leaders in a world that was originally called a man’s own.
Women have the ability to give life to both sexes and this reflects their concern to what threatens life as well. Their struggle for peace, unity and development therefore does not come as a surprise.
As a result, development calls for women to act as agents of the well-being of humanity and thus it is important to include them in decision making.
Women’s emancipation mainly gained momentum during the 1700’s. This was a period of civilization that gave birth to some free thinking women who started planting seeds of change through their writings.
In 1792 for example, English author Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She boldly proposed that women receive the same opportunities as men in education, work, and politics.
This greatly inspired many women who had never thought of gender balance or emancipation as a possibility.
Today the position of women in society has changed over the centuries as many enjoy their rights while others advocate for them.
Women emancipation has up lifted them from the inferior plunk in traditional societies to an improved status with far reaching consequences which have produced fundamental changes.
Emancipation of women implies their liberation from legal, religious, economic and sexual oppression. It also involves their access to higher education and escape from the narrow gender roles.
Not only is emancipation necessary but it is also desirable and has won admiration and support by many, thus becoming a greater symbol of social justice.
In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s economic base was decimated and fragile. The population, particularly women, had been eroded and left in absolute poverty.
Many women had suffered persecution, sexual abuse and death during the Tutsi genocide that left over one million people dead.
After the genocide, the country is undergoing a period of re-construction and the standard of women has been uplifted as many of them take up responsibilities and jobs that originally belonged to men such as in construction and engineering.
Women have an estimated 49 percent representation in parliament. Rwandan women have therefore topped the world rankings of women in national parliaments compared to a world average of 15.1 percent.
But what is the implication of this achievement? The big numbers of women in high positions give room for significant emancipation of women. During the recent elections of Rwanda’s representatives to the East African
Legislative Assembly last month, five out of the nine-member team were women. Jacqueline Muhongayire, one of the elected delegates said she will use her position to strive for women emancipation in the region.
On a wider perspective, women in Rwanda have also been empowered in a way that is aimed at reaching gender balance. As a matter of fact, the Rwandan law on gender refers to treating both men and women as equal.
The law and legal proceedings emphasise equality of all irrespective of sex. Emphasis is also put on gender equity as a channel to gender equality.
A number of microfinance projects have been instituted specifically for women. This has given women the opportunity to break out of the poverty circle and break even financially. Single women parents, now own businesses and are able to support their homes.
It is true that about a third of the households are headed by women today. Women forum structures like the National Women’s Council was also formed and constitutionalised by the Rwandan constitution of 2003 as an engine of women development.
The government of Rwanda sets a special fund geared towards women development. It also helps women to acquire loans just like their male counterparts as a way of reducing poverty levels.
The whole government policy therefore, paves way for an important gender balance for the betterment of the country.