”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/
This is a great analysis of the situation in Rwanda. But as amazing as it seems, I find it difficult to follow what exactly you mean. And this is why: From the beginning, you make it clear that women dominate parliament in the country and says later that the presence of women is still lacking in the economy. Isn’t market activities in Rwanda dominated by women, and isn’t it a policy that companies are required to employ a certain percentage of women in workplaces? Overall the work is great.
Thank you Ansumana MM Konneh for your comment, and your point is valid. You are right; Rwanda has put in places strong policies and mechanisms to promote gender equality, and the government’s strong will has resulted in Rwandan women being at the decision table. But I will invite to ask yourself, these women in key decision-making positions represent what rate of the women’s population?
This discussion isn’t about overlooking the tremendous efforts and achievements made by the government, but it aims at bringing the lens on the overall picture of women’s representation. Today Rwanda acknowledges that there is a need to increase the economic participation of women, and whereby women remain underrepresented in non-farm jobs for a country that is shifting from an agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based one. Women remain underrepresented in ICT and as well as in private entities, and these are part of the sectors that play a key role in the country’s development… Even till now, women in the decision-making positions find themselves always trying to prove that they are competent in their roles what they perceive to be very frustrating…
So as much as the government is doing a great job to promote gender parity things like gender role prejudices still hinder it from attaining to its objectives, and this blog is a call to action to start assessing the grassroots of the gender underrepresentation.
Great piece. One addition would be to brainstorm the local approaches that we can put in place for continuous inclusion. I am worried that we keep importing approaches that have proven to work in other countries leaving behind the context.
Thanks, Jean Jacques Iradukunda for your insightful input, and you make great sense in your points; homegrown solutions are the ones that can lead us to sustainable solutions.
Great article Joss, wonderful insights about Rwanda and very impressive achievements in gender equality. Some of the lessons that I got from this which I think other African countries could adopt are 1. making sure that there is a legislative framework for policies on gender equality 2. Putting gender equality on top of the economic development agenda. What do you think can be done to increase the gender equality agenda at the community level to close the disparities in the policies and the cultural norms that exist?
Thank you Margaret Mazvita Mandeya for engaging with the article and for your great question. It is a good question and a complex one that I believe we might need ministers and experts in the domain’s input on that. To respond to your question, my recommendation will be capitalizing on investing in education(both formal and informal ) to empower the whole society about gender role biases. The gender roles odds are at the grassroots of this problem, and most people practice these gender role biases subconsciously without being aware of their harm because our societal settings and beliefs have normalized gender roles odds that promote inequality.
It is indeed a step forward championed by Rwanda to include women in decision-making processes by having more women in the parliament than men. I only hope that other African countries follow the footsteps of Rwanda.
I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you!
Thanks for taking the time to read through and your appreciations.
I board with you that other countries should learners from Rwanda and apply their context even to do a better job; otherwise thee whole continent is missing out from a population that represents half of the continent population.
Hi Joss, great article! I enjoyed reading it and got a lot of insights! Rwandan is doing good job in including women to be part of the decision making. Its a great example of other African Countries and they need to follow their steps!
Thank you Barwaqo Ahmed for your encouraging feedback, and Indeed Rwanda’s efforts to promote gender parity aren’t things to overlook, it demonstrates that with a strong government will the impossible can be made possible.
This is a really great piece. I’ve been having a hard time understanding the dynamic in Rwanda whereby despite having a high representation of women in government there is still evidence of a lot of gender inequality. This piece allowed me to kinda piece things together.
Thank you Jerrylynn for the feedback, especially with your expertise within this field, your comment is really appreciated. And I think this also applies to other countries if we try to see things through
Thank you for this article Joss, it was an interesting read. I loved that you first gave a historical background of how women are the majority in the Rwandan population and how it stemmed from the genocide. This shows that while the government put effort in including women, it was facilitated by numbers and necessity in the workplace. This helped me understand why the Rwandan society still holds misogynistic stereotypes. How would you advise be done to tackle this issue?
Thank you Gloria for your kind comment,
My advice would be first to solve this at the grassroots level, and that is revisiting social norms within our culture that have labelled tasks basing on gender. Then invest in unlearning these beliefs by reshaping the environment around that trigger such a mindset; this should be at all levels of our society. It is not going to be a one-day solution, it will take time. We just need to start; for instance, we can start with the foundation of schooling like for example the books, the picture of the head of school doesn’t have to be male, or the picture of nurse doesn’t have to be a female or the picture of a solidier doesn’t have to be a male, etc…