24 April 2013

Rwanda: Women Are Fighting to Break Through the Glass Ceiling

The Independent, a British newspaper published an article on March 4, 2012, 'Revealed: The best and worst places to be a woman'. With women taking up 56.2 percent of the seats in Parliament, the article ranked Rwanda as the best place for a woman to be a politician.

The law protects women's leadership role in the public sector. Institutions must ensure that at least women must fill 30 percent of positions. However, there are no such affirmative action guarantees in the private sector.

Private sector development is at the centre of Rwanda's development process. However, as Women Today's Doreen Umutesi discovered, it seems that there is a 'glass ceiling' that seems to keep women away from the top. The glass ceiling, the unseen barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements".

Tales of discrimination:

Daniela*, has been working for a manufacturing company for the last five years. She wonders why her male colleagues have been promoted but she has stayed in the same position.

"To be honest, I think sometimes the employer thinks I'm not capable of working for longer hours because I have a family, hence all the promotions are given to the male counterparts. The high paying positions in this company require working the night shift compared to my job as the supervisor," Daniela explains.

"Some employers still look at women as the weaker sex. I believe they should give us a chance to execute different tasks without merely looking at physical strength. Most managerial positions don't require physical strength," she emphasises.

Daniella's story is more common among working females.

Monica* has been working for a microfinance institution for the last four years as a teller.

"At my work place when a managerial meeting is held, you find that there is only one woman present since she is the only one with a managerial position. I believe for any company, it is from these managerial meetings that job promotions are discussed. That is why it is not balanced," she argues.

She adds, "At the end of the day, I think there are areas where women can do a better job than men but they are not given the chance. In most cases we are so stagnant that at a specific point, the only option is to leave the company or institution if you want to grow in your career," she reveals.

"Sit at the table"

According to 'Lean In: Women, Work and the Will' to Lead, a book written by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, she explains why thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry.

After examining why women's progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, she explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential. She encouraged women to "sit at the table," seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

Sandberg is ranked on Fortune's list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World.

"Best qualified gets the job"

MTN Rwanda, the biggest telecom company in the country, employs 173 women out of a total staff of 484 people.

According to its General Manager Human Resource, Mary Asiimwe, women are an essential part of the organisation.

"We have 124 managers at different levels and out of these 28 are women. In top management, we have 13 people and out of these, 6 are women," Asiimwe reveals.

She adds that when recruiting new staff, affirmative action is not considered.

"We don't segregate when looking for women. Luckily when we advertise, we get women who are capable. Whoever comes with the skills we are looking for in a specific post is recruited," Asiimwe explains.

What does the GMO have to say?

The Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) serves as a reference point on matters relating to gender equality and equity in the public sector, private sector, civil society and religious institutions.

In an interview with Women Today, Ramadhan Barengayabo, Acting Chief Gender Monitor, said that there have been actions to engage the private sector.

"Since it's our objective to monitor the private sector, we have organised several preparatory meetings with the private sector so as to have the entry point to establish gender indicators and a baseline to monitor and evaluate the gender gaps," Barengayabo reveals.

The Institution has not yet started monitoring gender equality and equity in the private sector but plans are underway.

"When we monitor all institutions and sensitise them on the importance of gender equality, we are able to help address issues such as gender bias and its dangers to society," Barengayabo explains.

Hard work pays:

Xavina Mukamana started working at MTN Rwanda, on August 5 1998 as a cleaner, earning RWF 63, 000 a month.

"In 2006 I was promoted to the cafeteria area. Today I earn a net salary of RWF 300,000. I get my annual and maternity leave like any other employee,"Mukamana reveals.

She adds that she still can't believe she is now in charge of a big position when she compares where she started.

"The beauty in this all is the fact that as one of the longest serving employees, each time they are to award the best employee in the category, I always scoop the award. I want to tell women that if they love what they do, they will earn the promotion. Hard work pays", she ends.

*Names have been changed to protect their identity

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