Although the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented challenges and its initial consequences have had a ripple effect on all socioeconomic sectors and threatened to bring nations and communities to a standstill, it has negatively impacted women and girls more than men and boys, says Rwanda's First Lady Jeannette Kagame.
Speaking at the yearly Motsepe Foundation’s Gender, Equality, Wellness & Leadership Summit, that takes place on International Women’s Day, she said that, unsurprisingly, females were more at risk of infection with Covid-19, because they primarily fill the roles of caregivers, not only in their families, but also as frontline healthcare workers.
Kagame also noted that challenges faced by various sectors, especially education, have resulted in a different impact on women than men. “In comparison to men, women in general are economically strained as many have had to limit their work and economic opportunities to respond to increased household responsibilities.”
She also said that, through the Covid-19 pandemic, Rwanda has learned that out of tragedy and necessity, the country’s women have demonstrated “unimaginable resilience”.
Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, women and girls made up 80% of the country’s surviving population, and have since “bravely stepped in to fill the leadership void”, stated Kagame.
In terms of protecting women, she pointed out that, aided by women civil society groups, Rwandan lawmakers have introduced some of the most women-friendly policies in the world.
“Since 2003, Rwanda has consistently had the highest female representation proportionally of parliamentarians in the world, currently being 61.3% in the lower house.” Kagame adds that 53% of seats in Rwanda’s Cabinet are occupied by women.
“Currently, seeing women in Parliament has given women and girls confidence and pride as we acknowledge that behind such accomplished women, there are open minded, selfless men, free of traditional norms that too often limit women from flourishing.”
An interesting fact about women’s rights in Rwanda is that women “did not have to fight for their rights in the streets”, and that instead, these rights were achieved through a conducive environment and legislative action. “. . . we cannot claim to be on a sustainable path to transforming Rwanda if we exclude women who are more than half of the population.”
Meanwhile, she highlighted that, although Rwanda’s values and its protections for women have changed in a generation, some traditional and conservative beliefs are still hindering further development and empowering of women.
“Despite significant achievements, changing conservative mindsets is not something that happens over night. Gender relations within families do not always change at the same pace as government policies.”
Therefore, Kagame said that, going forward, critical questions that need to be asked involve the potential next steps for gender evolution in private spheres.
“How must we engage men and boys on instilling gender equality principles from a young age. How must parents, teachers and community leaders tackle gender norms standing in the way of change within our families and society at large.”
Indeed, she stated that certain “connecting dots” will help realise these frameworks, policies, and law and enforcement mechanisms, effectively transforming households from historic and current gender imbalances.