International Women’s Day, a global day celebrated annually on March 8 to commemorate achievements of women, has come and gone.
The day is a focal point in the women’s rights movement to bring attention to issues such as gender inequality, violence against women, economic exclusion, harmful cultural practices, little access to education, limited participation in politics and civil society, among a myriad of prejudices. This year International Women’s Day was celebrated amid enthusiasm with women being coddled and assigned to prominent roles at the workplace across the globe.
As a symbolic gesture some international airlines operated their flights with all-female crews to raise awareness about gender inequality. In some instances, all-female casts dominated news broadcasts across the globe. Both at home and at the workplace, especially in Western countries, women were pampered with bright yellow mimosa blossom flowers, which are largely viewed as a symbol of female strength and sensibility.
The African continent was part of this global day and many activities were organized to recognize and appreciate the role women play in all spheres of life. The 8th of March is now past us and women across the African continent still find themselves mired in their familiar everyday challenges. Women still largely remain marginalized and invisible in policy-making discourse across the African continent.
A report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which coincided with International Women’s Day, said the number of women parliamentarians globally is increasing but so slightly that it hardly challenges the global male-dominated legislative arrangement. The report said more than one quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women; however, at the current rate of progress it will take another 50 years to achieve gender parity.
But amid this gloomy background, one country located at the heart of Africa has broken the barriers and has outdone the seemingly insurmountable 50 percent gender parity mark. That country is Rwanda, which has gained international adoration for empowering its women in all spheres.
In the run up to International Women’s Day, the International Parliamentary Union singled out Rwanda for having achieved gender parity, with women accounting for 50 per cent or more parliamentary seats.
The IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong, referred to Rwanda as a role model for women’s participation in government, while launching its latest Women in Parliament report at the United Nations Office in Geneva. “We have seen evidence that where countries have come out of conflict and have had the opportunity to re-found the foundations of society, the legal framework of society, there is a greater chance of promoting gender equality, because this is something that has been articulated at the international level and it’s an opportunity for the society as a whole to sit down and say ‘this is what we want in the constitution,” Chungong said.
Rwanda’s socio-economic recovery from a genocide that claimed over a million people from the Tutsi ethnic group to a model country touted as the Singapore of Africa is breathtaking. The country, with a population of about 13 million, is celebrated as the doyen of economic prosperity on the African continent and the Third World. To others it is difficult to believe that women in Rwanda are the main pillar of their country’s success story which has captured the world’s attention.
Rwanda joined the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day and its women must have found the day more meaningful considering the remarkable attainments accomplished in improving their socio-economic status. This is one of the many towering hallmarks of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame’s leadership.
In a 2010 speech, President Kagame said: “Soldiers used to sing a song praising the mothers who had carried them on their backs as babies, nurtured them, and taught them the values that ultimately informed the vision for this nation.” “Empowering women and ensuring gender equality ultimately enriches communities and entire nations. This is something that we as Rwandans understood long before gender equality became fashionable or the catch-phrase in development discourse.”
Since the Rwanda Patriotic Front stopped the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 and drove out the genocidal regime, President Kagame has walked the talk. Ahead of other countries, most Western nations included, Rwanda introduced a quota system in 2005 to bring more women into leadership positions.
Thirty percent of civil servant positions are reserved for women. Women in Rwanda are driving the policy making agenda with 64 percent of them holding parliamentary seats – the highest percentage of parliamentary seats of any country in the world.
Rwanda now boasts of one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world. Some of the most relevant progress made in Rwanda include the reduction of the percentage of women in extreme poverty and the possession of land by women. Girls are enrolled in primary and secondary education and have full access to higher education while more sustainable programmes have been put in place to improve their socio-economic status.
Women in Rwanda occupy powerful positions including in the security sector with the recent appointment of Lynder Nkuranga as the first woman to take up the post of Director of External Intelligence, as a case in point. Just last week President Kagame appointed another woman into his Cabinet on Monday. Beata Habyarimana, the new Minister of Trade and Industry, replaces a fellow woman, Soraya Hakuziyaremye who is now the Central Bank’s Deputy Governor.
Another notable female leader is Donatille Mukabalisa; a lawyer, politician and notably the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The list is endless. Rwandan women have now transcended the country’s borders and are now occupying influential positions both on the continent and global stage.
Former foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo is now the secretary general of La Francophone, an international organization comprising 88 Francophone member states. Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, a Rwandan economist, politician, and diplomat, was recently elected as vice-chairperson of the African Union Commission and the first woman to hold the position.
Dr. Agnes Matilda Kalibata, an agricultural scientist and policymaker, is the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 food system. Kalibata is president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. She served as Rwanda’s minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources from 2008 to 2014. .Rwandan women enjoy all-out rights which women in many parts of the world can only dream of. They continue to occupy key positions in both the public and private sector including civil society. While addressing participants at the Global Gender Summit held recently at the Kigali Convention Centre, President Kagame aptly put it: “Women are our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. Whenever women gain, everybody gains and nobody loses. The fight for gender equality is common sense. The change of mindset has elevated women to the level they need to be, they are there by their own efforts as well as the country, men and women, making this effort together.”
Twenty-seven years ago Rwanda was in ruins, broken and seemingly hopeless but today the country is now one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. It is also one of the most stable countries on the continent and among the safest.
All this is courtesy to sound policies that includes the empowerment of women to play a meaningful role in the socio-economic development of Rwanda.