What’s one thing Rwanda has that Germany, France, the US, and Australia lack? A spot on the Global Gender Gap Report’s top five most gender-balanced countries.
Published by the World Economic Forum, the most recent Global Gender Report evaluates the level of gender parity in 144 emerging and developed countries. Among the top five nations with the highest levels of gender equity are Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Rwanda. To be clear, the index only measures the ratio of women to men across four distinct areas: labor participation, education, health, and political representation. The index makes no claims about the standard of living, only the gender parity existing in those four categories.
Rwanda achieved its high rank over nations like the US (ranked 48th) because of the level of women’s participation in the workforce and female representation in parliament. Eighty-eight percent of women in Rwanda participate in the labor force. To put this into perspective, know that 66 percent of women in the US are in the labor force. Moreover, Rwanda maintains the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world with 64 percent of its parliamentarians being female.
The impressive balance between genders in Rwanda stemmed from the atrocities that occurred in the nation 20 years ago during the Rwandan Genocide. An estimated 800,000 people were killed, most of whom were men, and 100,000 to 250,000 women were raped. At the end of the genocide, women were approximately 65 percent of the remaining population and the need to fill job vacancies ushered them into the labor force.
Keeping women in the Rwandan workforce, the constitution was rewritten with stronger support for women. A requirement that at least 30 percent of Parliament members were women and that women had rights to inherit land were among the new additions to the constitution. Women also gained the right to three months paid maternity leave, a right still missing from federal US law.
Rwanda’s Gender Minister, Oda Gasinzigwa, told The Guardian, “We have been on a transformative journey and we have come very far. After the genocide women played a vital role in rebuilding the country.”
As women have taken on a prominent role outside of the home, men are forced to adjust. Josette Uwanziga, a Rwandan woman working in customer service, says, “Women are much more developed now; they want to be involved in politics. Men have to understand that now we have the right to the things they have.”
Many men have already adjusted with little to no problem. Mother, wife, and plumber Beatrice Bamurigire said, “My husband is very supportive, he sees that by [me] having this work we have a better life for our family.”
Despite the progress in terms of gender balance, gender violence is still a pressing problem. When it comes to domestic violence, some Rwandans say “niko zubakwa,” meaning “that’s how marriages are built.” According to the UN, 56 percent of married women experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, or both from their husbands at some point in their lifetime, and 44 percent of married women experienced such abuse at least once last year alone.
Although Rwanda might not be the best place in the world to be a woman, the country goes above and beyond gender equity standards set by leading developed nations. Perhaps those nations can learn something from what Rwanda is doing right.
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