”Why we need to go back and review existing approaches for women’s full inclusion.”
One cannot overlook how the last decade was marked by the championship of equality, among which was women’s full inclusion in all social dynamics, within the aim of not leaving them out in all the activities that drive the development of their communities. Milestones have been celebrated and acknowledge, and Africa was not left out not in this battle. And Rwanda has set a global ton leading women’s participation in key governmental positions and other male-dominated domains that the world is still struggling to include them.
The Country’s championship towards women’s full inclusion is something that has been acknowledged worldwide where Rwanda figures in the Global Gender Index Gap report among the five leading countries in gender equality globally(World Economic Forum, 2017). Many would ask themselves how a country that figures in the UN’s list of the least developed countries can figure among the top 5 of the global leaders in gender equality(Economic Analysis & Policy Division | Dept of Economic & Social Affairs | United Nations, 2018)? The answer to this isn’t rocket science, but a strong government will in promoting gender parity. Within its development plan of making the country a middle income, an economic trade and communication hub, gender equality is stated among the priorities to attain to this plan, whereby women and girls should be part of the drive towards the development of the nation(Gmo.gov.rw, 2019).
The tremendous efforts of the government to promote gender parity have paid off, and Rwanda has recorded a significant increase in women’s participation in politics and critical decision making. However, Rwandan women still facing gender-based challenges that hinder them from fully participating in driving their respective responsibilities or leading position, and also many fail to integrate like men into the development activities due to gender odds UN Women, 2018). What brings us to the purpose of this blog. We will be exploring how despite the tremendous efforts put in place to attain gender parity and as many different accolades that the country has recorded in regards to women’s inclusion, still the reality on the ground doesn’t match with the efforts invested. Disclaimer, the purpose of this blog is not about bashing the government of Rwanda’s work to enable gender equality, but instead, it will offer a chance to highlight what the existing approaches haven’t been able to solve and display angles that can help us to understand where we can provide our support to enable building an equal society in our different roles and communities.
After the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, this was the situation: the majority of the dead were men, so were the majority fugitives and prisoners, this was a nation with patriarchal roots that saw women as someone who’s role was being a wife and bearing children(Nationalgeographic.com, 2019). The country had to get back to fits and start rebuilding itself after the Genocide against the Tutsi. As you can tell from the previous statement, women represented a large number of the human capital, it couldn’t have made sense leaving them out in the rebuilding of the country, and Rwanda did put them at the front line of the reconstruction of the country. Therefore measurements were taken to enable Rwandan women’s integration in the reconstriction of the countries, whereby frameworks and policies were introduced to allow women to play critical roles that they weren’t allowed before(Nationalgeographic.com, 2019). The post-genocide government was determined to smooth the involvement of women in the process of rebuilding the country. With the constitution that mandates a minimum representation of at least 30% of women in decision-making(Unicef.org, 2007) and other reforms that enabled their financial independence and smoothed their access to education, Rwandan women were able to participate in decision-making positions both at the community and national level(Nationalgeographic.com, 2019).
“In the past, women were few in decision making positions, now that your numbers are increasing in these positions, why don’t you use that?” Kagame said.(KT PRESS, 2018)
However, the government acknowledges that despite its well-thought gender policies and strategies, there is still insufficient participation of women in the country’s economy(The New Times | Rwanda, 2020). With women holding the highest representation in key decision-making roles like the parliament and cabinet(Global Citizen, 2019), then why can’t the government meet gender parity goal? One could expect substantial achievement in regards to the gender gap since we have fellow women, who not only understand the inequalities but have also experienced them at first hand to be the right forces to solve for this challenge. But, when looking at the current situation of the country’s still existing underrepresentation of women, we can ask ourself if the existing policies and strategies are fit the gender equality issues, do they tackle the problem from its grassroots? And the women in the key positions or active in economic activities, do they fully experience gender parity, both in their roles and daily life?
These are some of the questions I have been asking myself for the last two years trying to understand why all the efforts and resources put in place to enable women’s inclusion don’t match with the outcomes.
But recently my participation in the 2nd edition of the Gender Cafe discussion about harmful social norms and gender stereotypes I was able to connect the dots and with current lack of meeting gender parity despite the tremendous and strategies in place. Women with different career background and relevant professional responsibilities from various sectors were present. But they shared their experience as women in their respective professional roles that made me realized that we still have to rethink and reflect how we are approaching the existing gender gaps. These women shared the gender-based frustration that they face in their professional and social lives. They expressed how it became a common thing or even routine to have to prove in their workspaces that they are competent for the position they are holding. These are some of their statements: we get a lot statements such as ” who did you sleep with to be in this position?” or ” you are only here because of the company need to meet the gender figures”. But where do we get such attitude or assumptions?
We need to keep in mind that, like other African countries, Rwanda still holds a patriarchal mindset system within its societal settings(Undp.org, 2019). This is the type of society that has socialized to believe that roles are assigned depending on gender, and whereby girls and women are entitled to domestics tasks. In contrast, men and boys have control of the key decision-making roles. Through the same gender cafe conversation organized by UN WOMEN & Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, we asked ourselves who or what reinforces the patriarchal systems, and religion and culture settings appealed to us as pillars of gender role stereotypes. These gender roles set a ton that leads to a set of social norms that creates parameters around what is acceptable and what is not.
Therefore we need to understand that we need more than just policies and strategies to achieve gender equalities. Increasing the participation rate of girls and women in capacity building is not enough to enable their full economic participation. We need to look beyond increase the figures, but also consider sustainability and efficiency in their participation. What is the purpose of enrolling many girls in vocational training if they will never have a healthy professional relationship with their male workmates who still believe that their place is at home taking care of domestic work?
Different women accounted through my ground research expressed how they feel a lot of pressure by the society that expects them to excel at work and gain promotion like fellow male colleagues, but at the same time expected to spends lots of time on domestic tasks. It is too much to handle by one person, and we cannot expect policies and rate participation increase to solve on its own for gender parity. The question we should be asking here is, can policies alone change social norms or social biases? Can these girls be empowered once enrolled in schools where educators believe that girls are not good in mathematics?
The education books that always illustrates a soldier as a male character and nurse a female, how can they empower gender inclusion?
I will recommend that the ton should be set on how to build approaches that equip individuals with unlearning experience of the gender role stereotypes. It is also important that we get to assess the social norms, get rid of some that don’t make sense or redefine them to enable gender full inclusion. I will conclude by saying that I believe the gender parity achievement starts first from a personal level, then goes at the collective.
World Economic Forum. (2017). How Rwanda beats the United States and France in gender equality. [online] Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/05/how-rwanda-beats-almost-every-other-country-in-gender-equality/
Economic Analysis & Policy Division | Dept of Economic & Social Affairs | United Nations. (2018). LDCs at a Glance | Department of Economic and Social Affairs. [online] Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/least-developed-country-category/ldcs-at-a-glance.html
Gmo.gov.rw. (2019). The State of Gender Equality in Rwanda. [online] Available at: http://gmo.gov.rw/fileadmin/user_upload/Researches%20and%20Assessments/State%20of%20Gender%20Equality%20in%20Rwanda.pdf
UN Women. (2018). Revisiting Rwanda five years after record-breaking parliamentary elections. [online] Available at: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2018/8/feature-rwanda-women-in-parliament
Unicef.org. (2007). Rwanda: The Impact of Women Legislators on Policy Outcomes Affecting Children and Families. [online] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/powley.pdf
The New Times | Rwanda. (2020). Experts calls for more economic inclusiveness for women. [online] Available at: https://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/experts-calls-more-economic-inclusiveness-women
Global Citizen. (2019). Women Make Up 52% of the Cabinet in Rwanda. Here’s Why It’s a Big Deal.. [online] Available at: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/women-make-up-52-of-the-cabinet-in-rwanda-heres-wh/
KT PRESS. (2018). Kagame Tells Women in Leadership Positions to Use their Numbers. [online] Available at: https://www.ktpress.rw/2018/10/kagame-tells-women-in-leadership-positions-to-use-their-numbers/