By Athan Tashobya
As much as there is a growing understanding of the need to empower women, there is also some perception among some men that women empowerment could mean infringement on their rights.
However, gender activists as well as leaders say the perception is simply biased, calling for an understanding that women empowerment is rather a move to "make women and men have access to equitable rights and opportunities."
Speaking to The New Times, yesterday, Diane Gashumba, the minister for gender and family promotion, said Rwanda is one of the few countries across the world that has "greatly benefited" from putting up mechanisms in place that seek to empower women.
Gashumba said Rwanda's move to put in place women empowerment policies-as well as implementing those policies-has been "one of the major catalysts for the nation's steadfast development."
Through the programme dubbed, "Advancing and Sustaining Gender Equality Gains in Rwanda (2013-2018)," Rwanda has recognised that gender equality and women's empowerment are cornerstones for economic transformation and sustainable development, by contributing to the national priorities spelt out in the development blueprint, the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.
This has led to the systematic mainstreaming of gender dimensions in all policies, programmes and budgets in order to eliminate gender disparities, consequently putting Rwanda at the forefront of promoting gender equality.
According to the global gender gap index 2014, that measured global gender disparities across 145 countries surveyed, Rwanda was ranked 7th globally by the World Economic Forum report and second by the African Development Bank 2015 index.
Official reports on land holdings in Rwanda, for example, indicate that 26 per cent of land is owned by women, 18 per cent by men, while 54 per cent is shared by both spouses.
The recently released FinScope report 2016 says women access to formal financial services increased from 36.1 per cent in 2013/14 to 63 per cent in 2016.
With the legal provisions for affirmative action to uplift women representation in decision making positions at all levels, Rwanda has recorded the highest female representation in political decision making areas including; Lower House (64 per cent), Senate (38 per cent), Judiciary (43 per cent), Cabinet (40 per cent), among others.
In 2014, girls' net enrolment rate reached 97 per cent compared to 96 per cent for boys, while the number of girls enrolled in TVET courses was at 43.7 per cent compared to 56.3 per cent for boys.
From 2005 to May 2014, 446 women police officers served in UN and AU peacekeeping missions and, currently, more than 200 women army officers are serving in various peacekeeping missions, including Sudan (Darfur and Khartoum), South Sudan, Haiti, Ivory Cost, Liberia, Mali and Central African Republic.
"Our leaders, from the onset, realised that an equal society means equal opportunities; hence making sure that women must have as equal rights as men. This is not necessarily infringing on men's rights, no, this is to make sure that both genders have equal rights and equal opportunities in the development of our community," Gashumba said.
Women and AU Summit
The minister was explaining the significance of hosting the upcoming AU Summit, with a special focus on the rights of women.
The 27th African Union Summit, due next month, is being organised under the theme, "2016: African year of Human rights, with particular focus on the rights of women."
Gashumba said women empowerment is about bridging the historically-inspired gender gaps.
"Having AU come to Rwanda at such a time is significant, in a way that African countries have a few best gender practices to learn from Rwanda. Of course, we also expect to learn some lessons from other countries as we continue to close our gender gaps," she said.
Gashumba's remarks corroborate what Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, said during her recent visit to Kigali.
While speaking to the youth, Dlamini-Zuma said gender equality will be realised once both men and women realise that women empowerment is not about infringing on anyone's right but rather making sure that the latter catches up with the former.
Appearing in the televised question-and-answer session alongside Dlamini-Zuma, Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said when women are getting their rights, "it doesn't mean to be confrontational to men, it's about providing the environment that has not existed before, recognising the mistakes that women's rights did not exist in our society."