TODAY MARKS the 103rd International Women’s Day, providing once more the global community and Rwanda, in particular, an opportunity to celebrate the progress made in the women’s economic, political, and social empowerment agenda, as well as reflect on the challenges that still remain.
This year’s global theme is aptly titled “Equality for women is progress for all”. This is at the heart of what the UN has been advocating for decades. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, equality is not just a fundamental human right, but also “a force for the benefit of all”.
On this day, we should be reminded that “the energy, talent and strength of women and girls represent humankind’s most valuable untapped natural resource.”
Studies from the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank reinforce the UN’s views and positions, as they show clearly that women’s empowerment and economic growth go hand-in-hand. Increasing numbers of women accessing higher levels of education for instance result in a larger pool of talented, skilled labour.
Increased women’s labour force participation and earnings are associated with reduced poverty and faster growth. If women farmers were given the same access to resources as men, their agricultural yields could increase by 20-30 per cent, potentially reducing the number of malnourished people by up to 14 per cent.
Women are more active and effective in using resources to improve the health, nutrition, and education of their children. Loans intended for rural development granted to women are up to 25 per cent more likely to be repaid, and women more frequently use the money for its intended purpose.
Women’s empowerment is therefore a smart investment which benefits future generations of parents, leaders, workers and citizens.
In Rwanda, gender equality is one of the most important pillars of development and an area where notable achievements have been registered. The Constitution ensures equal rights for men and women and Rwanda has the world’s highest percentage of female parliamentarians, occupying 64 per cent of the seats in the Lower Chamber.
President Paul Kagame’s message to the global platform on MDGs, is testimony to the government’s strong commitment and leadership in this area: “We have always regarded the equal participation of women in all aspects of national life, including the liberation struggle, as an indispensable contribution to the socio-economic transformation of our country”.
To achieve complete gender equality several areas need to be prioritised, including; women’s leadership building schemes, removal of legal barriers to their property ownership and inheritance, women’s economic empowerment in both urban and rural areas, as well as closing the education gap between women and their male counterparts.
In Rwanda, illiteracy among women (23.1%) is higher than men (18.1%) which strongly limits their opportunities to access productive resources and technologies, create and manage small businesses, access property and participate in decision-making processes.
Additionally, more recognition must also be given to the ways women and girls’ unpaid work (domestic, reproductive, care and support) contributes to the country’s development.
The One UN Rwanda is launching a range of programmes to extend opportunities for women and assist the Government of Rwanda in its efforts to increase women’s empowerment. Support from donor countries allows an increased focus on targeted health programmes and improved access to quality education.
The recent Swedish Government-supported One UN Rwanda programme “Advancing and Sustaining Gender Equality Gains in Rwanda” will work to strengthen the institutional capacity of the National Gender Machinery and economic empowerment of women to ensure all government policies aim to address gender inequalities.
One UN Rwanda is also working closely with the Imbuto Foundation to empower young women and girls through education and leadership programmes to be able to fully participate in Rwanda’s society and economy.
These initiatives have already provided tangible results. Ninety-six percent of EDPRS Policy recommendations have been implemented, poverty has been reduced by 13% between 2008 and 2012, and young women are catching up to men in primary, secondary and tertiary school enrolment.
Alongside this, success stories continue to be reported from the field. In July 2009, One UN Rwanda, together with the Government of Rwanda, designed and implemented the first One Stop Centre for Gender Based Violence and Child Abuse, the Isange One Stop Centre.
The Centre provides comprehensive response, care and support services for girls and boys, women and men who have survived gender based violence (GBV) or child abuse. The Centre treats survivors of all types of violence, making it a safe place for everyone. It also helps combat the stigma which often follows.
Mary, a survivor of domestic violence and a patient at the One Stop Centre, said, “there is no way to say how much support I received from the Isange One Stop Centre. Now I have a place to go whenever I feel unsafe. The Centre gave me hope and strength to be myself again”.
Now, thanks to the support of the Royal Netherland’s Embassy, the One UN Rwanda and the Government of Rwanda will upscale the Isange One Stop Centre initiative to ensure Centres are located in every district.
These are just a few examples of how the One UN Rwanda, supporting the Government of Rwanda and working closely with the other Development Partners, strives to honour the words of Ban Ki-moon: “Only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.”
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator.