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Women’s Rights in Rwanda
Rwanda, a nation rebuilt after a tragic genocide in 1994, has progressed in terms of gender equality rights and become one of the leading nations in terms of women’s equality. However, many gender-based issues still persist that limit women. Women’s rights in Rwanda are notably among the most progressive, but Rwandan women are still invisible in many senses.

Women in Government

Rwanda was the first country to have a majority of women in its government. In fact, women hold 64% of the Rwandan government seats, whereas men hold 36% of the seats. On paper, women’s rights in Rwanda seem to flourish and represent a standard for other countries. Following the genocide and the diaspora of a majority of the population, women made up more than 60% of the remaining population and became responsible for the workplace.

President Paul Kagame, who rebuilt Rwanda after the genocide, leads this nation of 12.3 million people. He created a new constitution mandating a reservation of 30% of the parliament seats for women. Since this new amendment from 2003, the Rwandan government has consisted of a mostly equal balance of men and women.

Gender Equality in Rwanda

Paul Kagame also implemented the Vision 2020 plan which consists of a transformation to a knowledge-based middle economy country, however without gender equality in the field of information and communication technologies, this vision will not become reality. Currently, 34% of higher education ICT graduates are women. To aid this gender inequality, the Rwandan Government has implemented strategies that will benefit women in ICT. It is also investing in programs to increase the number of women in the field.

This nation ranks fifth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index from 2016. The United States currently ranks 45th, so Rwanda is seemingly much more equal. The World Economic Forum measures the gender gap index by how far countries have gone in closing the gender gap across a different range of measures. The Gender Gap Report specifically highlights equality in health, education, economy and politics.

The World Economic Forum highlights women’s rights in Rwanda in two categories, economic and political. Women hold 86% of the labor force participation and the wage gap is 88 cents for women in comparison to only 74 cents for women in the United States. These statistics are notable, however, one can attribute much of this labor force participation to the lack of men able to work during the genocide and the number of women forced into the workplace.

Sexual Violence in Rwanda

While Rwanda is a standard of gender equality because of the high rates of women in the economy and politics, the prevalence of sexual violence still persists at an astonishing rate. During the genocide, others used women as weapons of war and they experienced rape to increase fear in the country. Even years after the genocide, thousands of Rwandan women are victims of sexual violence and can take little no legal action. One can attribute the majority of this to the lack of representation of women in police and judicial positions.

In an attempt to alleviate sexual violence, The Rwanda Men’s Resource Center implemented a program to put at-risk men and women in each other’s shoes. The Men’s Resource Center, created by nine men, attempts to address masculine behaviors and gender inequalities while promoting healthy family lifestyles. This program has yet to be successful in reaching and solving many Rwandan women’s struggles, but it is a step in the right direction to address gender violence.

This African country looks equal on paper,  but many of its citizens would disagree that male and female gender roles are actually proportionate. Gender equality has progressed greatly since the 1994 genocide, but the authoritarian system still limits women and they face disproportionate amounts of sexual violence with little legal or medical assistance. Rwandan women have made immense strides and are some of the leading forces for change in the nation.

– Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

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

Poverty in Rwanda
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the center of Africa. With a sprawling savanna in the east and mountainous jungle in the west, the country has impressive natural features that have increasingly drawn international intrigue. Beyond Rwanda’s natural wonders, there have been great strides to combat poverty in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people died in 100 days. While the country faces substantial obstacles, there are many positive indicators of Rwanda’s future economic stability.

The Good News

Over the last two decades, Rwanda has shown an average annual GDP growth rate of 7%; this is consistently above the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. Another promising factor is that Rwanda has an increasingly diverse economy. Traditional sectors, such as agriculture and services, are contributing alongside emerging sectors, such as electricity, infrastructure and construction. Tourism has also been a key factor and now contributes to 10% of the national GDP.

Due to these economic advances, Rwanda has become the darling of the World Bank. The World Bank consistently invests hundreds of millions of dollars in public improvement projects in areas ranging from education to renewable energy. The results of those projects are promising. From 2009 to 2019 national electricity access jumped from 9% to 47%. Additionally, through the World Bank-supported Rwanda Urban Development Project, six cities have directly benefited from a massive increase in urban roads and stand-alone drainage.

The Obstacles

Poverty in Rwanda is still significant; around 39% of the population lives below the poverty line. One contributing factor is that Rwanda suffers from a poor education system where only 68% of first-graders end up completing all six years of primary education. Another component is that domestic private investment in Rwanda has yet to take off, mainly due to low domestic savings. Additionally, many rural Rwandans operate subsistence farms and thus have little disposable time and income.

According to The Washington Post, the authoritarian streaks of Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, are another hindrance to the alleviation of poverty in Rwanda. In recent years, tourists have marveled at the clean streets of Rwanda’s cities. What those tourists cannot see, is the forced removal of “undesirables” into detention centers.

In rural areas, the government has burned farmers’ fields because they did not grow their assigned crops. Rural residents have also had to deal with Kagame’s heavy-handed approach to modernization. In some villages, Rwanda’s regime has stripped villagers of their grass roofs with the promise they would return with metal replacements. When the new roofs do not come residents live in exposure which leads to illness and fatalities.

Some of Kagame’s policies have drawn international outrage. In 2012, Kagame supported Congolese rebels which resulted in the United States and the European Union suspending international aid. Another similar scenario may be on the horizon with recent reports of Kagame’s regime manipulating poverty statistics.

In 2019, a Financial Times analysis of poverty statistics found that the government was misrepresenting data to exaggerate the decrease in poverty. Despite that claim, the World Bank has continued its myriad of investments in the country and so have many other major donors. However, as countries on a global scale focus more resources domestically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international aid to Rwanda is in danger. Aid is still necessary to prevent catastrophic consequences as Rwanda is experiencing a dire humanitarian situation. The silver lining is that many of Rwanda’s usual donors are still in positions to assist.

The pandemic has also adversely affected tourism and exports, which are huge pillars of the Rwandan economy. Furthermore, as the country directs its healthcare workers and fiscal resources towards emergency response, other health concerns, such as the AIDS epidemic, move to the sidelines.

Hope for Poverty in Rwanda

Though Rwanda has problems that it cannot easily solve, there still is hope. Before the pandemic, Rwanda’s economic growth exceeded 10% in 2019. A two-thirds drop in child mortality and near-universal primary school enrolment accompanied this statistic.

Additionally, two World Bank-funded projects including the Rural Sector Support Program, and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project have increased the productivity and commercialization of rural agriculture. As a result, maize and rice yields doubled and potato yields tripled between 2010 and 2018. These results are especially promising considering poverty in Rwanda is the most severe in rural areas.

Rwanda has also achieved a strong level of political stability. Women make up 62% of the national legislature and previously marginalized opposition parties have gained parliamentary seats without disrupting the system’s stability. These are indicators that will increase confidence in foreign investors. While Rwanda has a troubled history, the future holds a lot of potential.

Cole Penz
Photo: Wikimedia

Unite AfricaDuring the 27th African Union (AU) Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, a new electronic passport was presented that would allow AU citizens that have passports to travel throughout all member states without a visa. The hope is that this plan will further unite Africa.

The first of these passports were presented to Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Idriss Deby, President of Chad and acting chair of the AU. The ultimate goal is for all citizens to have access to the new passport by 2018.

Many are fearful that it will be easier for drugs, disease and terrorism to cross borders, because of this new passport. David Zounmenou, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies, debunked these suspicions when he told CNN, “One key advantage is that we will have centralized records to show who is going where.”

The positives far outweigh the negatives for the e-Passport, or all-Africa passport, which plays a major role in Agenda 2063. The AU describes this initiative as “a call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa.” Agenda 2063 is considered one of the continent’s most crucial initiatives.

Presently, travel from one country to the next is quite difficult in Africa. The Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, published by the Africa Development Bank, states Africans need visas to travel to 55 percent of other countries and Africans can get visas on arrival in 25 percent of other African countries.

Leaders of the AU believe that the passport will break down borders and unite Africa by creating new avenues of trade and travel. Countries in Eastern and Western Africa with high visa openness, such as Mali and Mozambique, have seen great economic success. The Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 stated that in 2014 10.1 percent of Mali’s and 7.0 percent of Mozambique’s GDP came from travel and tourism.

The e-Passport hopes to build on the accomplishments of these countries by creating greater integration across the entire continent.

Liam Travers

Photo: Nigerian Times

Rwandan Refugee Kids Waiting for Food on March 28th
Recently, the United Nations pledged $400 million to Rwanda to be paid out over the next five years. The announcement was happy news to a country that still has fresh emotional wounds from the 1990’s genocide from which it has yet to fully recover. This is the greatest nod from the international community that the country has received since earlier this year when it was awarded a seat on the UN Security Council.

Rwanda depends on external aid for 40% of the budget, but for years the nation’s GDP has been at 7%, slowing to 5.9% only in the first quarter of the year. Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s ultimate goal is to rely less on aid, and more on investment. Author Stephen Kinzer says that Kagame’s objective was to “have a country that really works, everybody speaks English, the Internet is super fast, the airport is totally free of corruption… then lure to Rwanda all the companies and economic interests that are working in this entire region.”

Many have spoken out against the nation’s president for human rights violations, including silencing political opposition and deaths attributed to Rwandan-backed rebels in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. However, many are also lauding him for the way he is running his country economically. Vowing to make Rwanda a middle-income country by 2020, Kagame has boosted the nation’s coffee, tea, and tourism industries dramatically.

Harvard University Professor Michael Porter is convinced that Rwanda is playing to its strengths by focusing on these areas. Natural resources are scarce there, but volcanic soils in high altitude are rich in nutrients and allow for abundant coffee and tea production, and the country’s rich biodiversity has opened up a great market for eco-tourism (for instance, Rwanda is one of the few safe places in the world to view mountain gorillas in their natural habitat). According to a statement issued by the Rwandan government on Thursday, approximately $124 million from the UN will be put towards economic and “governance” projects, bolstering these industries even more.

Much of that will also go toward increasing Rwanda’s energy capacity. Kagame wants his people to be ready to meet whatever demand for labor that may come with such a change. In an interview with Justin Fox, he said, “We keep sending our people to institutions of higher learning in the sciences, engineering, and management. It’s the focus because we want our people to understand how the new world works.”

But most Rwandans remain poor farmers living in subsistent conditions, and the lofty goals of 2020 cannot come soon enough for them. Luckily, the other $276 million from the UN will be spent solely on development in order to strengthen the health, education, and nutrition of the people. With memories still marred by a violent history, this country’s problems won’t disappear overnight, but progress is a principal priority of the people and the current administration alike. Speaking about Rwandan’s newfound awareness of their interdependence in the interview with Fox, Kagame says, “Yes, we need each other. We are more similar than different. It helps the society to move forward.”

– Samantha Mauney 

Sources: Bloomberg, The Independent, NPR