Rwanda’s 1st Daughter, Ange Kagame, Says Economic Empowerment For Women Is Vital

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Gender equality is the great fight in the 21st century. We are at a point in the world’s history where pushing for equality on all fronts has never been more urgent, now that we live in a mostly global economy that has enabled us to advocate for people on the other side of the world, as well as our own communities.

There are certain countries that lead the way for gender equality in particular ways. Iceland has been named the most gender equal country by the World Economic Forum for the past 6 years. In 2014 Rwanda made the top ten for the first time, and just an FYI, the USA doesn’t make it into the top ten.

Rwanda is an interesting country because they too are leading the way in political gender equality. They are considered a 3rd world country yet they have the highest percentage of women (64%) in government, more than any other country in the world. Much of this equality was born out of necessity and a very dark time. The horrific genocide and civil war between the Tutsis and the Hutus in 1994 left the country war-ravaged. Many fled the country, but the majority who were left behind were women and they became a huge part in helping the country rebuild politically and economically from a local all the way up to federal level.

Because of the presence of these women, they were able to vote for a law that states 30% of all government seats at any level must be occupied by women. And hey, when a country is recovering from one of the most bleak periods in its history, it’s not as if they had a choice to exclude women when it came to rebuilding.

Although they have made great strides, they still have a lot of work to do, as does the rest of the global economy, when it comes to equal rights for women and allowing them to play a part in a country’s economy. During March, Women’s History Month, many women around the world spoke about the progresses that have been made, including Rwanda’s first daughter Ange Kagame.

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In a feature for Refinery 29, the budding philanthropist who studies Political Science at Smith College in Massachusetts, spoke about the importance of empowering women and how it effects every part of society. She first pays homage to her mother, First Lady Jeanette Kagame, whose Imbuto Foundation was originally created to help combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic and help orphans and widows after the 1994 genocide, but now it has expanded to help women and girls envision a viable future for themselves.

“Imbuto (meaning seed) focuses on planting seeds of greatness, which it does through scholarships and awards ceremonies, literacy programs, poverty reduction, and the distribution of empowering technology throughout communities. Imbuto encourages young girls to believe in their abilities as equal citizens, and to demand nothing less than excellence from themselves,” she writes.

Women and girls were left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of a horrible time which in turn also empowered them to step out of the shadows of previous societal boundaries .

“Before, women often retreated to the background, having been told (with gentle condescension) to sit on the sidelines and wait for the men to sort everything out. After, this was no longer an option. Rwanda’s rebirth meant that no Rwandan was to be left behind. Women now had a chance to make their own choices, and become strong, powerful forces to be treated with respect,” she said.

The prominent role of women not only values their importance but shows how crucial women are to a country’s development. They have rights like never before.

“Twenty years later, the women of Rwanda now enjoy unparalleled success, while so many still struggle for recognition worldwide. An impressive 64% of parliamentarians are women — the highest proportion of any parliament in the world. Gender rights are enshrined in the constitution, and women now have the legal right to inherit land, share the assets of a marriage, and obtain financial credit.”

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While she is proud of her nation’s progress for women, she emphasizes this is not a one-country issue, but a global one.

“The story of women in Rwanda has proven that how we empower women contributes to the evolution of modern society. But ultimately, this is about more than one nation. We are a global community, and what happens in one region impacts others. There is, of course, much more that needs to be done. Too many women achieve less than they could, and feel like much less than an empowered human in the eyes of many — including themselves. Every day we must strive to undo the harm of inequality towards women.”

Her mother Jeanette is also a passionate activist and philanthropist and recently spoke an a conference about the importance of equipping women financially. She spoke at the Comesa Heads of State and Government Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was joined by the First Ladies of Ethiopia, Malawi and Madagascar as well as other government and business leaders.

The theme of the summit was “Economic Empowerment of Women: A key to inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development” and Jeanette echoed some of the sentiments that Ange shared about barriers to women’s economic empowerment.

“A global female leader, perhaps correctly, stated: ‘too many women, in too many countries speak the same language, silence’. We see several girls lacking confidence, preferring to remain on the periphery of economic progress,” she said, sharing a well-known quote from former US First Lady Hillary Clinton.

One of the issues she believes holds women back especially in Africa is the excuse of cultural boundaries, which she says should not be used as a reason to exclude women from participating in the economy at an equal level.

Citing another well-known head of state, Jeanette said education was key to changing the ratio as well as the mind-sets of naysayers.

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“Aung Suu Kyi said it well: ‘The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.’ It surely cannot fail to spur the double-digit economic growth rates Africa so badly needs to move to middle income status,” she said.

If there was further proof needed, all she had to do was point to her own country, Rwanda, as to why female economic empowerment works.

“Rwanda’s leadership has been clear and consistent about placing women at the heart of the national agenda and considers gender a cross-cutting pillar in all sectors of the economy.”

It is a timely message to heads of state all over the world, yes even the developed nations. Although countries like the United States may have the world’s strongest economy and military, a great test of a nation’s power doesn’t just stop with those two areas. The inclusion of key human rights laws that seek to empower marginalized voices and sections of society is a great way to test whether a nation actually cares about it’s people or its coffers.

To think that Rwanda, a country torn apart by war 20 years ago is now leading the way for economic empowerment for women is awe-inspiring. Women’s History Month may be over for another year, but the issue of women’s empowerment is one that needs to be tackled 365 days a year.

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2 Comments

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