African women at Adventist meet hope to learn from Rwanda’s gender policies

WOMEN taking part in the Seventh Day Adventist Church International Women’s Congress, currently underway in Huye District, have said they expect to learn from the country’s long journey toward gender equity and equality.
Participants at the Adventist women’s congress in Huye District. The New Times/ Jean Pierre Bucyensenge
Participants at the Adventist women’s congress in Huye District. The New Times/ Jean Pierre Bucyensenge

WOMEN taking part in the Seventh Day Adventist Church International Women’s Congress, currently underway in Huye District, have said they expect to learn from the country’s long journey toward gender equity and equality.

More than 1,500 women from 11 countries of the East-Central Africa division, including about 600 Rwandans, are taking part in the congress that runs until Sunday. It is held under the theme: “Chosen to Make a Difference”.

 

It is expected that apart from biblical teachings, the women will share their experiences and exchange knowledge and skills on a wide range of topics, including the making of artefacts and handmade products.

 

According to officials, participants in the five-day congress will also discuss challenges facing women such as gender-based violence, self-esteem, and socio-and economic development.

 

Various speakers will address participants on emotional intelligence, and how to live a purposeful life, among other topics related to the main theme.

Speaking to The New Times, participants said they hope to learn from their Rwandan counterparts about the achievements so far registered in the empowerment of women and the process that led to the success.

Rachel Nyaputa, from Kenya, said she has heard so many stories about Rwanda and wishes to learn from the experiences of local women.

“This is my first time here. I want to learn how Rwandans are, how they live and so on. After the Genocide, we heard of so many things. We really want to see how people, especially women, are today. Here, I have seen women are so humble but also confident,” Nyaputa said.

Florence Ochieng, a Kenyan retired teacher, said gender equality is part of what the holy teachings say.

She said Christians, especially women, should be virtuous, faithful, hardworking, truthful and must have moral standards, qualities she said many of the Rwandan women depict.

“I would like to learn how Rwandan women conduct their affairs, how they are contributing to rebuilding their country which was really torn apart [during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi] so that we can go back and do the same,” Ochieng said.

Another woman from Tanzania, who only identified herself as  Mkunda, said: “I expect to learn more about what Rwanda did to empower women, not only in public life but also in families. I hope to share the experience with my countrymen and church members.”

The Rwandan story

Rwanda is credited for having made remarkable achievements in empowering women.

The principle of gender equity and equality is enshrined in the Constitution. It guarantees a minimum of 30 per cent of leadership positions to women. But in some cases, this threshold has been significantly surpassed.

At 56 per cent of Members of Parliament, women occupied majority seats in the House. And, the country’s laws protect women’s rights to equal opportunity to employment, inheritance and land tenure.

Esperence Ngagi Murerabana, the Rwanda Union Adventist Women Ministries director, said because Rwanda understands the notion of gender equity and equality, it has allowed women to be actively involved in the efforts toward socio-economic transformation.

“That has allowed us to be self-confident. Last time I attended a meeting in a certain country and everyone was surprised because I was the sole woman among the 11 leaders in attendance. They asked me how, as a woman, I could lead. But I told them my country has put in place policies that allowed me to discover my strengths and abilities,” Murerabana said.

It is the first time that Rwanda is hosting the Seventh Day Adventist Church International Women’s Congress. Such meetings have previously taken place in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, among other countries.

Participants in the Huye meeting came from Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Sudan and Rwanda.

Esron Byiringiro, the Rwanda Adventist Union president, said the country was chosen to host the meeting because of its position vis-à-vis women empowerment and gender equality.

While opening the meeting on Wednesday, First Lady Jeannette Kagame said women have been given a chance to contribute to development, their families and their countries in general and urged them not to lose the opportunity.

“With the help of our brothers, we have reclaimed our place in society so we should not lose this chance. We are slowly becoming conscious about the space we occupy, we have been given our place but what are we going to do with it? How are we going to make a difference?” Jeannette asked, challenging the participants to “think about what you are going to leave behind for the next generation.”

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