Rwanda has made enormous strides in improving access of education to boys and girls at all levels, and in promoting gender equality within the education system.
Yet female students continue to lag behind in educational achievement and access, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels, where girls’ enrollment, achievement and graduation rates are lower.
Girls are under-represented in government schools, and are instead more likely to attend more expensive and occasionally lower quality private schools and universities.
Despite an enabling policy environment, a number of social and institutional barriers continue to prevent girls and young women from attending schools and universities and from performing equally to their male classmates.
The prioritization of science and technology within the educational and development policies of the country may act to further exclude female students unless additional actions are taken to promote women’s participation in these fields.
Achieving gender equality in education is crucial to meeting Rwanda’s development goals and to protecting human rights within the country. It is a critical component of promoting development and meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Rwanda, across sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.
The Rwandan government has enacted a range of policies to work toward achieving the MDGs of ‘universal primary education’ and ‘gender equality and women’s empowerment’ by promoting gender equality at all levels.
Rwanda is in fact ahead of other countries in the region in promoting gender equality in the political and social realms, a goal clearly laid out in the 2003 constitution and the Vision 2020 development plan adopted in 2000.
Education for all, achieving gender equality in higher education, and practicing a policy of affirmative action to promote women’s educational and social advancement are policy priorities in this country.
The 2003 Constitution states that education at the primary level should be free and mandatory for all primary school children, and policies were put in place through the Organic Education Law to realize this goal.
Vision 2020 aims to correct the historic marginalization of girls from the educational system and from the political and economic spheres more generally.
This vision underpinned Rwanda’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP1), approved in 2002, which elaborated a number of policy goals to alleviate poverty and meet the Government of Rwanda’s objectives in line with the MDGs.
These policies are consistent with Rwanda’s international obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and contribute to meeting Rwanda’s obligations under the Beijing Platform for Action and the Dakar Goals on Education for All.
Rwanda’s progress in gender equality is marked by the achievement of 48.8 percent female representation in Parliament and similar high levels of female representation at all levels of governance.
These achievements are supported by strong institutional measures, including policy and budgetary commitments in connection to the Economic Development Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) process, which seek to mainstream gender equality within government policy-making.
Educating women is furthermore fundamental to economic development and poverty reduction within the region, and is intrinsically linked to improving other development indicators, such as reducing maternal and child mortality rates, reducing birth rates, and improving basic health indicators of entire families.
Educating girls about their health and rights is also instrumental tool in the fight against HIV/Aids. Given the strong commitment within the government and parts of society to promote the rights and influence of women, Rwanda has made impressive gains across a range of sectors to improve the well-being of women and girls within the country.
But a good policy framework is not by itself sufficient to achieve gender parity in education, and girls continue to trail behind boys in scholastic achievement.
A number of social barriers and entrenched sexist social practices continue to prevent girls from accessing education and from performing equally in their national examinations, putting them at a disadvantage professionally and for university enrollment.
Identifying and eliminating the sources of girls’ continued inequality in the education sector is imperative to lifting the status of girls and women within Rwandan society, and to promoting equitable socio-economic development within the country.