Women across the world are fighting for equal rights and respect, but some countries are doing better than others. Rwanda is one country that is providing a strong example of what can and should be done to support women. The nation, which has made gender equality one of its top priorities, has provided many women with leadership opportunities.
Its government has more women in its national legislature than any other country. Rwandan women hold 64 percent of positions in the lower level of the national legislature. In comparison, women in the US hold only 19 percent of seats in the House of Representatives.
Much of this success can be traced back to President Paul Kagame, who helped end the Rwandan genocide in the summer of 1994 and became president in 2000. After the 100-day genocide tore the nation apart, Kagame decided that Rwanda needed to be rebuilt by both men and women. The nations new constitution, which was passed in 2003, even has a policy that reserves 30 percent of parliamentary positions for women.
“This is a different time,” Judith Kanakuze, a former Rwandan parliamentary member and genocide survivor, told The Guardian in 2008. “We are transforming our society, and women are part of the solution.”
The Rwandan government has also acted to improve educational opportunities for girls. Though secondary education is not mandatory, both primary and secondary education are free, making it easier for girls to pursue schooling. Because of this, 78 percent of girls aged 15-24 are literate, a number that is not too far off from the worldwide average of 89.5 percent.
The national government has increased science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs for girls to help shift the economy by 2020.
“Africa faces a dire deficit in skilled workers in the applied sciences, engineering, and technology (ASET) fields,” said a 2015 World Bank report. “There is one or less scientist or engineer per 10,000 people, compared with 20 to 50 in industrialized countries.”
To meet this goal, the government created STEM academies just for girls, such as the FAWE Girls’ School. Students at this school (and others like it) regularly score in the top percentile on national exams.
“It’s a belief of many that girls cannot perform as good as boys, but that is not correct,” said Pascale Dukuzi, a chemistry teacher at the FAWE Girls’ School. “So believing that they have that potential of doing sciences as well as boys, I think it’s very good for them because with sciences, one can do many things.”
Other organizations in Rwanda are also standing up for women. Last month, Christian radio station Amazing Grace FM, which is owned by American evangelist Gregg Schoof, was shut down for three months and fined after it aired a “vile” sermon against women.
The sermon, which was delivered by local pastor Nicolas Niyibikora, called women evil and claimed they were against the plan of God. These actions did not “comply with Rwandan culture, norms and value” and did not “uphold national interest and security,” Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority’s director-general Lt. Col. Patrick Nyirishema said.
These actions to protect and advance women in Rwanda are indicative of the nation’s reputation as one of the most pro-women countries worldwide. Perhaps other countries can learn from their example and allow women more opportunities in government and education.
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