And like many other issues, women have been affected the most. A 2020 UN Women report -From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19, estimates that “the pandemic will push an additional 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls”.
Despite the fact that they have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, women have once again demonstrated their courage, strength and resilience in the pandemic preparedness and response, in Rwanda, in the UAE and all over the world from the top leadership down to the communities and families.
When I reflect on the role that women play from being pillars of family, to nation and peace building, the only question I ask myself is: “We have inherited a gender-imbalanced society but what are we doing to bridge the gap?”
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact are a stark reminder of the urgency needed to step up action towards gender equality and women empowerment.
Tremendous effort and reforms have been deployed to change the status-quo inherited in the last two decades, including in Rwanda and the UAE and today we celebrate women in leadership positions across national, regional and global institutions.
In the most recent past, the world applauded the election of Nigerian Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, the election of Rwandan Economist Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa as the vice-chairperson of the African Union Commission, the election of Hon. Louise Mushikiwabo as the fourth and current Secretary General of organization Internationale de la Francophonie and many more before.
One can draw parallels with the equally laudable successful Hope Probe Mission to Mars, a vision of the UAE leadership come true and the magnificent groundbreaking World Expo2020 officially starting in October of 2021 in Dubai both historic in the sense of the word with women leaders at the helm.
These women trail blazers continue to be the shining light that young ladies follow and emulate along their path. Undoubtedly, women ascension to decision-making positions works to reaffirm their potentials, the world trust in them and acts as a good opportunity to drive and support the gender equality agenda across nations.
Reflecting on the much-needed political will, Rwanda and the UAE share a common vision with regard to women empowerment. High levels of women participation in the UAE Cabinet, distribution of positions in government institutions by gender with women making up 66 per cent of the public sector workforce in UAE, as according to the UAE Gender Balance Council recent data, the country is arguably leading the region in gender parity.
After the devastating effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which destroyed the socioeconomic fabric of Rwanda, the government placed gender equality and women empowerment at the forefront as full recovery could only be possible with women and men equally contributing to the country’s vision for development.
Rwandan women have taken advantage of these opportunities and made major strides in realizing their dreams while changing the world around them. Deliberate gender equality policies by Rwanda’s Government have paid off.
Rwanda is now a global leader in women participation in legislative decision-making positions with 61.3% female members of Parliament and also ranked 9th globally in closing gender gaps according to the Global Gender Gap Report, 2020. In addition, 52% of the Cabinet members are women, among the Judges and clerks, women stand at 49.7% while in the local government leadership, women occupy 45.2 % as Members of District Councils.
Given the country’s recent history, Rwanda understands best the cost of insecurity and the responsibility to protect. In the UN peacekeeping missions, Rwanda has the second highest number of women peacekeepers who contribute to peace and relief around the world. Wars and disasters everywhere affect women and children disproportionately, it is always important to have a woman’s voice and helping hand next to a woman victim in time of need.
In the education sector, gender parity has been stable with girl’s enrollment standing at 49.5% against 50.5% of male at primary level while the enrolment of girls in secondary education increased to reach 53.3% against 46.7% of boys’ enrollment, according to 2019 Education Statistics of the Ministry of Education.
Economically women and girls have same access rights to land ownership and inheritance as their brothers do in Rwanda. Suffice to say, Rwanda’s progress in women empowerment is a result of a solid foundation laid by the highest political will, deliberate legal and policy frameworks among other mechanisms.
As we mark the International Women’s Day of 2021, a lot remains to be done to achieve gender equality, let us all together strive for a world where equality and equity prevail.
The author is H.E. Emmanuel Hategeka, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United Arab Emirates.