African News

Rwanda: Leader of the pack and trailblazer on gender equality

8 April 2018 at 18:56 | 3317 views

Commentary

Dr. Hassan B. Sisay, USA

Rwanda is experiencing a gender revolution with international implications particularly for Africa. In a 2017 Global Gender Gap report, this small African nation comprising 0.16% of the total world population was ranked 4th out of 144 countries for its focus on gender equality.

In the BBC series on “My Perfect Country,” Rwanda was featured in episode 15 of 21 nations as the “best country to be a woman.” What is Rwanda doing right that most countries worldwide seem to get wrong? A brief review of its history is in order. Emerging from a devastating civil war in the 1990s which caused the deaths of nearly a million of its citizens, most of whom were males,

Rwanda needed to rebuild as well as implement policies which prior to its civil war were considered unacceptable. To start over from the bottom up, Rwanda needed effective political leadership with a clear vision of its problems and ability to communicate to the populace on what needed to be done.

At the top of the list was the promotion of gender equality, especially in parliamentary representation in the national legislative body. In a continent where women despite their superior numerical strength were woefully underrepresented in various national Parliaments, Rwanda took a different path. It constitutionalized gender equality, “created a Ministry for Gender and family promotion,” and funded women’s programs especially those relating to combating family violence. Not surprisingly, since 2012 Rwanda has ascended to the envious position of becoming “the first country in the world to have more than 50% female members of Parliament,” a feat unreachable even in the so-called developed nations of the world. To their credit, Rwanda’s female parliamentarians while lacking prior legislative experience quickly became consummate experts in pushing their legislative agenda. During parliamentary debates they were reportedly gender specific, and seem to focus primarily on equality issues, such as employment, pay equity, education, domestic violence and childcare.

A reporter for the Guardian on a visit to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital noted these improvements: “A swath of laws has given women the right to inherit land, share the assets of marriage and obtain credit. As many girls receive primary and secondary education, maternal mortality is lower and the birthrate is falling.” Incredibly, despite its devastating and horrific civil war, Rwanda now surpasses the United States and many European nations in gender equality enforcement. Female employment has increased by leaps and bounds, affecting 80 percent of women.

Progressive government policies have also led to easy access to credit and landownership to female farmers, thereby effectively combating an age old problem of women producing most of the food in the world but had limited or no access to land ownership. When the tintinnabulation of Church bells and loudspeaker calls to prayers from mosques interfered with people’s right to sleep in the nation’s capital, they were shut down by the Rwanda Governance Board with this common sense explanation: “Exercising your freedom of worship should not encroach on other people’s rights.” Indeed, Rwanda’s national reforms have been target-based, sharply focused, and clearly a product of democracy and effective leadership based on integrity and accountability.

Accordingly, the search for democracy and improvement of education for all citizens must never be allowed to lapse despite the obvious problems that may arise especially during the transition period of governance from one leader or ethnic group to the other. Current political reforms and their impact on national unity will be tested during the impending changes.

The only credible solution is for Rwandans to stick to democracy and vigorously uphold the concepts of term limits, checks and balances, judicial independence and gender equality. The search for continued excellence is not going to be easy. The linchpin of national development appears to be the improvement of education, since better readers make better citizens. The traditional format of education will change as the current system of instruction based on the “Sage on the stage” becomes increasingly obsolete and replaced by the “guide on the side model.”

These changes will require new areas of emphasis such as artificial intelligence, digital literacy, extensive computer and robots’ usage, as teaching tools to replace the “flipped classrooms.” This is not going to be cheap or easy, but based on its past history and achievements, it appears if anyone can do it, Rwanda is ready for the task.

Bravo Rwanda and Good Luck.

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