Gender Equality in Rwanda
Rwanda started the journey to women’s empowerment earlier than the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which encourages gender equality. Rwanda started encouraging gender equality after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and during its rebuilding. The country, therefore, developed a system that led to the appointment of more women in governmental leadership positions. This system also intensively invested in girl education. More women received encouragement to join the army and national security departments. After these interventions, the government started creating business opportunities and training for women. They were able to participate in activities that could provide them with an income. The following are some of the campaigns for gender equality that have been helping with achievements in Rwanda.

Isange One-Stop Center (IOSC)

IOSC is a national police-led center where victims of gender-based violence receive treatment and protection. Doing this helps to make sure that they can live healthy and developed lives. The program aims to provide psychosocial, medical, police and legal services. The Center provides these services to adult and child survivors of gender-based violence and child abuse occurring in the family or in the community at large. The U.N. office in Rwanda reports that there are currently 44 operating IOSCs in the country.

Parents’ Evenings (Utugoroba tw’Ababyeyi)

Parents’ Evenings are local evening gatherings that connect parents so they can discuss the community’s wellbeing. These evenings encourage conversations about fighting against gender-based violence in families. Additionally, these gatherings have discouraged different stereotypes about women and girls who faced discrimination in the local villages. These gatherings have also encouraged women to join together and invest in economic activities to generate income for them.

HeForShe Campaign

HeForShe is a U.N.-based campaign that aims to achieve global gender equality. The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, joined this campaign and committed to bridging the gender gap in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access. This tripled the number of girls enrolled in Technical and Vocational Training and also eradicated gender-based violence. These fields are crucial for achieving gender equality in Rwanda since economic development depends on them. In 2018, HeForShe reported that the number of women with access to mobile phones increased from 35.1% in 2010 to 84% in 2016. Additionally, there was an encouragement to start different campaigns granting mentorship and career guidance to girls in technology. Examples of these campaigns include Smart Village, Girls in ICT and the Miss Geek competition. All these campaigns for gender equality supported the cause of the HeForShe campaign in Rwanda by empowering women and girls.

Rwanda is one of the few countries that is substantially improving gender equality. This is the result of intensive investments in women empowerment, girls’ education and the fight against gender-based violence. Rwanda is showing progress because its campaigns for gender equality support the nation as a whole.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

3 Lessons the World Can Learn From Mexico’s New Feminist Foreign PolicyIn January 2020, Mexico shattered barriers by announcing its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing “structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities” at home and abroad. This commitment made Mexico the first country in Latin America and the Global South to require that “gender equality be at the core” of all foreign policy decisions. Mexico’s new policy initiatives intend to help foster the reduction of women’s economic and social issues through representation and the elimination of structural differences. Here are three lessons that every country can learn from Mexico’s groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives.

Representation Matters

Developing foreign policy necessitates introspection within a government. How can a nation help foster gender equality abroad when it fails to do so within its borders?

In establishing its new feminist foreign policy, Mexico saw the potential hypocrisy of sponsoring gender equality worldwide while failing to address inequalities present in some of its governmental organizations. For this reason, many of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy initiatives focus on the creation of “a foreign ministry with gender parity.” The Mexican government believes that to ensure equitable feminist foreign policy gets passed into law, the ministry which creates such law must have “visible equality of women” within its ranks. This part of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy entails hiring even more women into positions of leadership in the foreign ministry. This hiring shift aims to create an influx of female voices in the Foreign Ministry to instill the opinions of women in policy areas ranging from foreign aid to defense.

Already, the Mexican government has become one of the most gender-equal in the world. As of 2018, Mexico had 246 women in congress occupying 48% of congressional seats. This places it at fourth in the world for its number of women in congress. By committing to include more women in the process of drafting foreign policy legislation, the Mexican government seeks to amplify the voices of women in the legislation process even further. This means increased advocacy for women worldwide, especially those living in poverty.

Mexico’s commitment to include women in the process of foreign policy creation demonstrates to the world that equitable foreign policy requires equal representation of men and women in the lawmaking process. 

Equality and Economics Are Inextricable

Globally, women earn 24% less than men and are more likely to live in poverty than men. High poverty rates among women signal a disparity between the wages of men and women. Any attempts by a government to ensure the equality of women on a global scale must be focused on reducing the number of women in poverty. Mexico recognizes this fact, and many of its groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives involve tackling structural inequalities like the gender pay gap.

The Mexican government has committed to joining with the HeForShe organization, which champions social and economic equality between the sexes throughout the world. By orienting its foreign policy goals toward fulfilling the promises of women’s rights on a global scale, Mexico commits itself to economic initiatives like “microfinancing and small loans for women,” as well as the dismantling of antiquated trade laws and tariffs that put women at an economic disadvantage to men.

Through these initiatives, Mexico aims to reduce the number of women in poverty by helping to dismantle systemic inequalities and by giving women the resources needed in order to create economic equality. Microfinancing creates limitless economic opportunities for women all over the globe and allows them to independently develop their own businesses. Global communities lose around $9 trillion a year due to the gender pay gap. By committing to reduce this inequality, even the poorest of nations can decrease their poverty rates and bring tangible economic benefits to communities in need.

Mexico’s commitment to reducing the number of women in poverty makes it evident that if the systemic economic barriers to equality are to be dismantled, women must be given the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and to earn wages and jobs at equal rates to men. Equality cannot simply be declared. Rather, social and political equality arises from equal economic opportunity.

Anyone Can Try It

Before Mexico announced its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing women’s poverty and encouraging a “feminist agenda abroad,” the only other countries to have oriented their foreign policies toward feminist initiatives were Sweden, Canada and France. These other three nations have an average poverty rate of 9.7 % and an average GDP per capita of $49,907. Comparatively, Mexico has a poverty rate of around 17% and a GDP per capita of $10,065. Although Mexico’s peers in the field of feminist foreign policy have more national wealth than it does, this did not prevent the nation from adopting and maintaining policy objectives with women’s rights at their core.

Mexico’s new foreign policies demonstrate that it does not take an extreme amount of national wealth to launch feminist initiatives at home and abroad. Regardless of GDP, any government can make commitments to ensuring tangible gender equality. 

Overall, although Mexico still has progress to make with respect to ensuring women’s equality at home and abroad, its commitment to a feminist foreign policy sets a strong example for other Latin American countries. With any luck, other Latin American countries will soon follow Mexico’s lead and begin to implement similar feminist foreign policies that not only work to lift women out of poverty and assure social and economic equality but that also recognize that “women’s rights are human rights.

 – Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Media Misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire
A good story can be hard to find. The term “good” is used here to mean positive or uplifting, and to find a “good” story reported about a developing country can require even further digging. The media misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire, and this can lead to uninformed conclusions about developing nations. Media outlets often correctly assume the tales that will catch public attention are only the ones of despair and depravity.

Côte d’Ivoire and France

Claimed by the French in 1893 during the European furor to divide Africa, Côte d’Ivoire’s people resisted occupation as colonizers imposed their culture and encouraged the planting of cash crops such as cocoa and coffee, thus beginning the exploitation of the country’s rich land and resources.

Côte d’Ivoire achieved independence from France in 1960. In the decades following, Côte d’Ivoire kept lucrative ties with its former colonizers, growing in economic wealth over the three-decade presidency of Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Since the 1990s, civil conflicts resulted in thousands of civilian and military casualties and the displacement of one million people.

There’ve been human rights and free speech violations, military mutinies, and the continuation of the illegal ivory trade. These are the stories that will barrage any search for information on Côte d’Ivoire.

Searching for the “Côte d’Ivoire”

If one sought out a better understanding of Côte d’Ivoire through mainstream media outlets, one’s sure to see a storm of instability and misfortune. Top search results from mainstream media sources paint a picture of toxic waste, violent uprisings and leaders committing war crimes. These misrepresentations box Côte d’Ivoire into a one-dimensional existence afforded to many African nations by first world lenses — primarily, one of chaos and dependence.

After the end of the First Ivorian Civil War, several thousand French and United Nations troops remained in the country to help implement the Ouagadougou Political Agreement. The United Nations Peacekeeping review for 2017 stated, “The collective efforts of our uniformed and civilian personnel have resulted in progress on the ground this year. We ended our operation in the Ivory Coast in June, where we have left behind a legacy of stability and peace after a presidential crisis in 2010 when some 3,000 Ivorians were killed and 300,000 became refugees.”

Presidential Progress

As of 2016, there has been measured progress in the realm of free speech and press. During Laurent Gbagbo’s presidency, much of the country’s media was state-produced to prevent criticism. In the first years of Alassane Ouattara’s presidency, the country’s media remained under the control of the state to keep media platforms closed to Gbagbo’s constituents who aimed to continue his crusade.

But in recent years, new spaces have been created for independent press and legislation. For instance, new legislation was drafted in 2016 to prohibit imprisonment of journalists and reduce fines for journalistic infractions. In December that same year, the broadcasting regulator in Côte d’Ivoire announced spaces would be open for private television stations; soon after this occurrence, four new privately-owned television channels were approved.

Cocoa and Economics

Côte d’Ivoire is the largest exporter of cocoa, producing more than twice as much as Indonesia, the next largest exporter. Encouraged by the French colonizers, Côte d’Ivoire devoted substantial land and resources to the production of cocoa. But after decades of farming, the nation’s aged trees and infertile soil made it susceptible to the effects of climate change.

To combat the destabilizing possibility of cocoa’s decline, the third-party organization Cocoa Life vowed to invest $400 million in educating and providing new technology to 200,000 cocoa farmers in the hope of one day reaching one million community members. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to have all the second largest chocolate producer Mondelēz International Inc.’s cocoa sustainably sourced.

By the end of 2017, Cocoa Life reached 120,500 cocoa farmers in 1,085 communities; this feat lead to sustainable sourcing of 35 percent of Mondelēz International’s cocoa.

Gender in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa farming industry holds a 70 percent gender pay gap. Cocoa Life focuses on increasing women’s land ownership, promoting women leadership positions, and enrolling young women in youth-oriented programs improving their livelihoods through financial freedom and entrepreneurial skills.

Côte d’Ivoire’s gender statistics are sobering. In a country where agriculture is the major source of income only 18 percent of the land is owned by women; in rural areas, 75 percent of women live in poverty; and on top of all that financial debilitation, 36 percent of women in Côte d’Ivoire are victims of physical and/or psychological violence, including female circumcision.

In 2017, the Centre for Women Entrepreneurs of Attécoubé opened in the suburbs of Abidjan. At the opening, the U.N. Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stated the center’s goals, “This center is a link between established and starting-up women entrepreneurs, and a chain of solidarity between the U.N., the Government, bilateral partners and civil society.”

Discovering Solidarity

President Ouattara officially joined the HeForShe global solidarity movement, and pledged to end female circumcision and support the end of all forms of violence against women by 2020.

The media misrepresents Côte d’Ivoire and innumerable other developing nations to pander to an audience who lusts for the sensationalization of the struggles of others to make them feel better about themselves. We should all do our part not to revel in decay, for it is all our responsibility to seek a full and well rounded portrait of those we do not know.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

HeForShe Campaign
In today’s world, nearly one in five women and one in 10 men are illiterate. Illiteracy is a serious issue in itself, but this statistic also points to gender inequality. In addition to discrepancies in literacy rates, women across the globe face unequal opportunities in both education and the workforce. According to the HeForShe Campaign, this inequality is more than just a women’s issue; it is an issue of human rights. While these differences are most prominent in developing countries, women all over the globe are taking a stand.

The HeForShe Campaign, started by U.N. Women, calls on everyone to stand together for gender equality. The organization’s website encourages visitors to make a commitment to gender equality and take action against gender bias, discrimination and violence. Over 1.1 million people worldwide have made that commitment, and more than 900,000 of them are men. In addition to this, HeForShe has coordinated more than 1,100 events, 1.3 million actions and 1.3 billion conversations about gender equality.

“HeForShe is the movement for fathers who love their daughters and believe in their potential and for husbands who consider their wives as partners,” said Diana Ofwona, U.N. Women regional director for West and Central Africa. At the recent launch of HeForShe in Cameroon, Cameroonian Prime Minister Philemon Yang made a commitment to the organization. One hundred and fifty others followed suit at the event. Nearly 185,000 school-aged girls in Cameroon are out of school, compared to 8,500 school-aged boys, a discrepancy leading to disproportionate literacy and employment rates. HeForShe has the potential to make a large impact on the country.

“HeForShe is for leaders who believe in the full potential of women and help them to fulfill it, CEOs for whom women in the workforce is a great asset for the profitability of the enterprises,” said Ofwona.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr

Emma Watson
On March 8, 2016, Emma Watson turned the Empire State Building pink in honor of International Women’s Day. As a U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Watson helped launch the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality in 2014 and continues to keep the issue at the forefront of international politics.

In fact, Watson admitted in a February 2016 interview with feminist author bell hooks that she was taking a year off from acting to focus solely on her work with U.N. Women and the HeForShe movement.

The HeForShe movement affirms that gender equality is not just a women’s issue but an issue that affects all people. HeForShe recognizes men and boys as partners for women’s rights and provides a platform from which they can become agents of change towards the achievement of gender equality.

While some progress towards gender equality has been made over the last decade, major disparities still exist. The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report revealed that the global average annual earnings for women in 2015 just reached the average annual amount men were earning ten years go.

The Forum states that achieving equal pay will take 118 years if economic progress continues at its current pace.

Emma Watson has spoken around the globe on the issue of gender equality in order to involve hundreds-of-thousands of men in the movement.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, she’s started an online feminist book club, organized HeForShe arts week in New York City, unveiled a new HeForShe website and released a 26-page report in Esquire Magazine on why gender equality is an issue that involves all of us. So far, HeForShe has been the subject of more than 2 billion conversations on social media.

One of the most notable initiatives of the movement Watson helped organize is IMPACT 10x10x10. IMPACT engages governments, corporations, and universities and has them make concrete commitments to gender equality. The three IMPACT groups are made up of ten heads of states, ten corporate executives, and ten university leaders.

The participating IMPACT Champions, all male, include the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of Rwanda, the CEO of Tupperware Brands, the COO of Twitter, and the President of the University of Sao Paulo Brazil.

These individuals are committed to making gender equality an institutional priority and then sharing what they learn with other organizations so that their changes can be replicated.

Watson and the ten IMPACT corporate executives recently met at the 2016 UN World Economic Forum in Davos to unveil their Corporate Gender Parity Report. The report revealed that within the ten corporations, 71% of board members were male, 73% of senior leadership positions were male and 60% of the overall global workforce were male.

The report also revealed the impact commitments the corporations plan on implementing to achieve gender parity. They include:

  • Embedding gender equality in company policies through programs like mandatory bias training and male-focused gender curricula to educate and empower men as gender equality advocates;
  • Increasing the percentage of women in senior leadership positions through mentoring opportunities;
  • Creating thousands of HeForShe male champions within each company;
  • Reaching complete gender parity in undergraduate intake programs to build the pipeline of future female leaders;
  • During the presentation of the report, Watson stated that full female participation in the workforce would bring a $28 trillion boost to the global economy.

In a recent interview at the inaugural HeForShe arts week, Watson was asked what’s next for gender equality and she stated, “we really want to crowdsource as many different strategies from all over the world so that we can try and build a really comprehensive guide to how we can make a tangible difference and make it happen.”

HeForShe is off to an impressive start in 2016 and continues to power towards its goal of gender equality by 2030.

Brian Zepka

Sources: HeForShe 1, HeForShe 2, HeForShe 3, Paper Mag, World Economic Forum, HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 2015 Corporate Parity Report, HeForShe YouTube Channel
Photo: Flickr