Published:  12:26 AM, 14 January 2020

The milestones of women empowerment in 2019

The milestones of women empowerment in 2019

Donah Mbabazi

The empowerment and self-sufficiency of women is highly significant. This is why in the past years the fight for gender equity has been put at the front, and this journey has seen improvement of women's livelihoods.

This year in particular has seen more tremendous milestones, such as women now constituting 52% of Rwanda cabinet, and more initiatives have come up such as the introduction of 'Gender Cafes' a platform that is aimed at tackling bias against women. However, has enough been done in terms of upholding women empowerment?

Clement Kirenga, the programme manager, human rights and democracy at the embassy focal point for gender at the Swedish Embassy in Rwanda, says this year a lot has been done through different events/activities.  He cites the inclusion of women in decision making positions such as women representation cabinet increasing tremendously (52%), something he says is keeping Rwanda at the helm of this fight.

He also notes that campaigns on awareness about women's rights, fighting teen pregnancies, how to engage men and boys in the gender equality drive have been spontaneous as well.  

However, Kirenga notes that a lot more remains to be done because of the challenges that are still at large, for example, cases of defilement.  In the 2016/2017 fiscal year, 3,060 cases of defilement were received, a figure which rose to 3,512 cases by August this year, according to statistics from Rwanda Investigation Bureau.

"This problem alone is alarming. In addition, more men and women are not yet aware of the issues of gender inequality, so men still dominate women in terms of voice and power; gender based violence is still at large, there are still low numbers of women at lower levels of decision making and private sector, plus a limited access to resources among others," he says.

He is, hence, of the view that to keep on addressing this, more awareness on gender equality should be done, especially by involving men and boys. He also believes that unpacking and contextualizing feminism that is rising, especially on social media, more discussions on young girls' access to contraceptives and other preventions of unwanted pregnancies, more punishments to GBV perpetrators can be of great importance. "Encouraging women's access to finance is also vital, this calls for more involvement of the private sector," he adds.

Gender activist Sharon Mbabazi says 2019 has done great in terms of women empowerment, though it's still a process for a lot has to be done to strengthen what is already being implemented. This translates to having more innovations in 2020 to strengthen women empowerment further. She is of the view that women be provided with economic empowerment, whereby they get access to financial tools and services, arguing that given the right skills, women can excel in whatever they put their hearts to.

"2020 should grant more opportunities for women empowerment through innovative ideas, such as more trainings/summits to empower them with entrepreneurial skills in their different sectors. This will build a legacy of excellence, impacting and influencing women globally," Mbabazi says.

Bertin Ganza Kanamugire, the founder of Afflatus Africa, appreciates the works done by Rwanda and some other countries such as Ethiopia in the fight for women empowerment. He, however, notes that more is yet to be achieved for women are still undermined and assaulted in different parts of the world. For this journey to be strengthened, Kanamugire recommends having more women in decision-making positions, giving them more benefits in work places and most importantly, listening to those in need without judging them.

Role of the youth

Isabella Akaliza, the founder of #FreeThePeriod Initiative, says 2019 was a year that really highlighted the power of the Rwandan Youth.  We saw young people increasingly forming strong views and mobilising on local and global issues. They advocated for reforms on policies related to gender based violence, menstrual rights, reproductive justice, climate change, poverty alleviation and mental health. Their work in community education, advocacy, policy and fundraising showed that this young generation has a lot to say, Akaliza says.

For the next decade, she envisions the youth working collectively to advocate for publicly supported child-care, comprehensive sex education in schools, policies that support the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, to have children, to not have children, and parent the children had in safe and sustainable communities.  "We will fight to make more visible the previously hidden extent of gender-based violence. We will work for equal access to education.  We believe that a better future is possible," she says.

Anne-Marie Mukankusi, the founder of Ineza Village, an initiative that supports Rwandan single mothers in the US, says these last couple of years leading to 2019 did well in terms of creating awareness and speaking out loud about how enough is enough in terms of equal pay (working environment), noting, however, that there is definitely still a long way to go.  "Women are still raped and sex trafficked everywhere, women are still not paid as similarly as their male colleagues, and a lot of cultures still regard women as less than their male counterparts.

I honestly believe it will take years for women to be treated equally because change always takes time and a lot of sacrifices. You would think by now a lot would have changed but we definitely still have a long way to go," Mukankusi says. She believes that women need to do better in raising their daughters and sons equally.

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