On Wednesday March 8th, 2017 Rwanda joined the global community in the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD). This year’s celebration of IWD in the country was done at Shyira Sector in Nyabihu District. It was graced by the personal presence of H.E. Mrs Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda and the participation of several Ministers, notably the Hon. Minister of Gender and Family Promotion as well as a number of representatives of the Diplomatic Community and International Organizations, including the One UN Rwanda Family.
The annual celebration of the International Women’s Day provides the global family with an important opportunity to reflect back on the journey traversed in the struggle for equality among the genders and the empowerment of women, the gains made over those years and the challenges that remain towards the desired gender equity. Indeed, this struggle has been a long one.
For a fuller appreciation of that, it is worth recalling that, historically, Women’s Day was born from labour movements at the beginning of the 20th Century that were protesting against the difficult working conditions for women as the industrialization process was picking up momentum. Since then, women’s movements grew steadily but surely until February 28th, 1909, when the first Women’s Day was observed in the United States of America.
We would also like to recall that the Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN has helped create enabling conditions for the advancement of the status of women worldwide through, inter alia, internationally-agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals. It is against that background that the year 1975 was declared the International Women’s Year and since then the United Nations and most of its member countries around the World have been celebrating the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th of each year.
Tracing this historical journey of the movements and struggles for gender equity indicates that this year the global community is celebrating 42 years of established mechanisms that have underpinned this important process. Indeed, there is much to celebrate around the world, and these commonly adopted mechanisms have made important contributions to the gains made towards gender equality.
At the Global level, we can celebrate, among others, the CEDAW that was adopted in 1979, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1994), which remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women as well as the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security adopted on 31 October 2000. Within the UN family, we also celebrate the creation initially of UNIFEM and now UN Women, as the UN dedicated arms for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment at the advocacy, policy and programme levels. Today nobody is left untouched by the campaign to ensure equality among the genders and the notion that H.E. President Paul Kagame and many other leaders around the world put emphasis on, that no society and country can attain their full potentials if more than half of the populations held back by gender-based discrimination, is surely taking root.
Despite the significant gains registered, the balance scorecard and landscape continues to be pretty much uneven. The recent UNDP Africa Human Development Report (2016), whose main theme relates to economic empowerment of women, clearly indicates that significant gender gaps persist at the decision-making levels, access to basic social services, to land, finances and credit as well as productive and decent employment opportunities. This report estimates that annual GDP losses from the persistence of these gender gaps at US$90 billion between 2010 and 2014, reaching a peak of US$ 105 billion in 2014. These losses represent significant lost opportunities for transforming the lives of not only the women but those of the entire population of the countries.
Coming to the national level in Rwanda, there is broad consensus that the country has made remarkable progress in the struggle for gender equity and empowerment of women. Starting with the position of women in high level decision–making institutions and processes, Rwanda is maintaining its leading position in having more women in leadership positions as proxied by the ratio of women representation in the Cabinet, at over 45%, and Parliament where women occupy 64% of the seats, the highest in the world. Maternal deaths were reduced sharply from 1,071 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2015, while the gender gap ratio in primary and secondary schools was completely bridged. Notable progress has also been made in the areas of combatting HIV/AIDs, reproductive health and family planning. Worldwide there has been slow progress in increasing the number of women in off –farm employment, but Rwanda is on the right path in terms of long term strategy to address that issue. The current policy and regulatory framework in favor of women empowerment gives upbeat prospects.
This provides another opportunity to pay tribute to the foresight, commitment and visionary leadership of H.E President Paul Kagame for taking such revolutionary steps towards the empowerment of women and promotion of gender equity, and sustaining the dynamism of the processes and initiatives.
Moving forward, I believe that the national theme for this year’s celebration in Rwanda is particularly pertinent. It is: “Preserving the Dignity Regained” (“Munyarwandakazi, Komeza Usigasire Agaciro Wasubijwe”). Indeed, the remarkable achievements made by Rwanda in promoting GEWE only need to be protected and sustained, and the enabling conditions for that are quite good, given the remarkable progress already registered.
However, while the bigger milestones were outstandingly achieved in Rwanda, there are still specific areas requiring concerted collective attention and stepped up efforts. One of the MDG indicators that has not been fully achieved by Rwanda related to the percentage of women in off farm jobs, which was at 27.3% in 2015, a bigger percentage of female headed households are considered to be poor compared to their male counterparts. Only 23,9% of women are using bank services/products while 70,6% of women are using non-bank mechanisms.
The issue of unpaid care work and the pay gaps still affects equality between men and women. Illiteracy among women is still higher than that of men and the level of gender - based violence is still a concern particularly among women and girls. Women political representation at local level remains lower compared to the national level. As we move towards a planet 50-50 by 2030, all efforts should be sustained to preserve the gained dignity as per the national theme. We have no doubts that the strong political commitment of President Kagame and his Government, combined with mobilization of all sections of the population will ensure that.
On our part, the UN Family in Rwanda remains committed to supporting the Government in its efforts to ensure gender equality through building on, and deepening the achievements already made. Through the specific expertise of various UN Agencies present in the country, gender related initiatives will be supported to ensure that men, women, boys and girls of this country have equitable access to opportunities. To achieve this noble goal of parity by 2030, there is need for integrated action by governments, development partners, private sector, foundations and civil society to address the SDGs through cross-cutting policy solutions, technological innovations and targeted financing. There is much to believe that the Government of Rwanda would replicate the MDGs performances in the case of agenda 2030 implementation.