Rwanda: Jeannette Kagame Emphasises Need to Investment in Gender Equality

A field visit during the Global Gender Summit in Kigali.
26 November 2019

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said that to fully realise the economic gains for women and girls is as much everyone's responsibility, as it is about making the right investments, especially in closing gender gaps.

She was speaking at the Global Gender Summit during a high-level panel session themed; "Realising a Demographic Dividend through Investments in Gender Equality", which tackled priority interventions in addressing persisting gender inequalities.

Despite the solid role that they have historically played in societies, Mrs Kagame said women have been disempowered.

"Growing up I thought and I actually believed, that 'what a man can do, a woman can do just as well.' I maintain that stand," she said.

"As fate would have it, the irony of our dark history, suddenly threw our women into a multitude of roles, as they had to be the mothers, husbands, fathers, brothers, comforters and guardians," she added.

The First Lady told participants that Rwanda realised from the onset that to build strong communities in this post-genocide era, the country had to be intentional in its choices, in order to realise a nation rooted in unity, dignity and prosperity.

She emphasised that sustainable socio-economic growth can be achieved when everyone's full contribution to the economy is given its rightful value and when access to health, education, profitable opportunities and financial inclusion are no longer the privilege of a selected few.

"Realising a demographic gender dividend requires all of us to make the right investments towards closing persisting gender gaps, and enabling women and girls to be in the driving seat of their lives," she said.

She added: "In order to get a real picture, let us move away from our tendency to skim the surface, and look deep beyond the statistics, to the reality of what truly prohibits women from achieving their true potential."

Through inclusive policies, legal and strategic frameworks, the First Lady said Rwanda set a strong stage for gender equality, offering women and girls opportunities to maximize their rights and contribute to the country's development, alongside their male counterparts.

However, she maintained that there were harmful and outdated traditions and beliefs, common in most African countries that continue to limit women and girls' perception.

It is believed that investing in women and girls is one of the ways to attain economic benefits, and many experts have argued that it is one of the best means through which the continent can reap demographic dividend.

First Lady of Kenya Margaret Kenyatta highlighted an example of how investing in women healthcare workers can particularly drive economic value for countries, something she said her country has experienced.

"We have seen the impact their (women) work has given us as Kenya. I have seen how trained healthcare community workers have played a critical role in filling the gap to alleviate health staff shortages," she noted.

However, she added, more attention is required to remove barriers faced by healthcare workers, pointing to slow efforts that more often are jeopardized by cultural constraints and common challenges across the continent.

Globally, she said, women face similar challenges that limit their ability to engage in development as equal citizens.

The challenges include lack of access to credit, lack of influence due to low representation in decision-making positions, lack of control or ownership of productive assets like land, and lack of financial control to make spending decisions on education and health, among others.

"In Kenya, we envisage a country where every woman and girl enjoys gender equality; a country where all legal, social and economic barriers that hinder the progress of women and girls' are removed," she noted.

Meanwhile, the session featured a panel discussion which observed that women still face barriers to access sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to labour market opportunities, among other things.

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