AUPRES DES NATIONS UNIES
124 EAST 39th STREET
NEW YORK, N.Y. 10016
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MS ANGELINA MUGANZA
MINISTER FOR GENDER AND WOMEN IN
HEAD OF RWANDESE DELEGATION
TO THE 23RD SPECIAL SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ON WOMEN 2000
GENDER EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE FOR THE
NEW- YORK,7TH JUNE 2000
(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY)
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
First and foremost allow me on behalf of the Rwandan delegation start by congratulating Honourable Theo-Ben Gurirab on your election to chair and guide this important session. Indeed it is an honour and pleasure on behalf of the Government of Rwanda to address this session and to share the Rwanda's experience on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action five years after its adoption.
Five years ago, nations gathered in Beijing to review the status of women and to map out new strategies to increase Governments commitment to women advancement and gender equality.
At that time Rwanda was emerging from genocide, the worst of its kind in Africa in the last millennium. Despite the trauma and loss that had been experienced the people and women of Rwanda in particular stood up to this challenge and joined the rest of the world in pledging their commitment to the implementation of Beijing Platform for Action. Rwanda had been turned into ashes by Rwandans regrettably while the whole world watched. By the time Rwandan women and men joined the rest of the world in Beijing we were continuously being advised by those who seemed to care for us that we Rwandans can no longer live together. I am pleased to, say that the Government of National Unity has made a choice to reconcile all Rwandans and to promote the politics of inclusion. We presently live together in peace.
Allow me to briefly to present the situation of Rwandan women after the 1994 genocide. Presently, women constitute 54% of the Rwandan population. Women most of whom are illiterate which limits their employment opportunities and financial ability to take care of their families head 37% of all Rwandan households. 70% of the Rwandan population are living below poverty line and a large proportion of these are women.
It is against this background that the Rwandan Government of National Unity has demonstrated its unreserved political will to the advancement of women and attaining gender equality in all spheres of life despite the socio-economic challenges resulting from the genocide and its effects. This political will has created the enabling environment for the women of Rwanda, the NGO's and the Development Agencies to implement the Beijing Platform for Action.
Allow me now to highlight some of the major achievements and gains in the last five years after Beijing. At the institutional level, the National machinery for the Advancement of Women and promotion of Gender Equality was created and progressively upgraded to a focused Ministry of Gender and Women in Development with a clear mandate. The Ministry of Gender and Women in Development has among other things undertaken capacity building in gender training and mainstreaming for its staff and key partners within the government and the civil society.
Gender sensitisation for policy makers has been implemented at the level of legislature, executive and local government. This has created an enabling environment for the implementation of the Dakar and Beijing Platforms for Action. Secondly, the Ministry has facilitated development of gender focal points in various institutions and broken the resistance to the cause of gender equality and women advancement. The process of engendering the development process is on going to cover sector ministries, commissions, civil society, private sector and decentralised organs of government.
The national machinery plays an advocacy role and mobilises resources at different levels so as to enable Rwandan women meet their day to day practical needs such as shelter, food and other necessities as well as the strategic interests of women. Women have played an active part in taking care of thousands of orphans left behind by the genocide. Women have been able to participate in non-traditional roles such as house construction and taking part in community and national politics to mention but a few.
Rwandan women facilitated by the national machinery have embarked on a process of political empowerment. They have elected women councils right from the village up to the national level. A national council secretariat is being set up and reinforced to serve as a technical arm to national women councils. Capacity building is required to make the secretariat operational and dynamic. The overall goal of these women councils is to prepare women to participate in decision-making at all levels and give them the necessary forum to air their views and aspirations and at the same time work together to solve national problems.
A capacity building process for the women councils has started and will continue to ensure that their participation at all levels is realised. Women's voice in national political life is becoming increasingly audible and women's visibility is growing. In the ongoing democratisation process in the country, the government has adopted a 30% affirmative action of women's representation in local administration.
One of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action is economic empowerment for women. Besides the financial support channelled through women NGOs, women have set up a credit scheme with a Revolving Fund at the Communal level which is initiated and managed by women themselves. The national machinery provides some capital contribution and capacity building for the management committees of these funds. To date, about 1 M US $ has been disbursed to 61 % of all the communes by the government of Rwanda. We thank all the friendly countries and agencies of the UN for the financial support provided. This scheme targets the poorest families that have no access to formal lending institutions. The target is to have total coverage by the end of the year 2001.
Along side this scheme, the Ministry of Gender and Women in Development in collaboration with Commercial Bank of Rwanda, has put in place a guarantee fund in the Bank to promote women enterpreneurship. It is gratifying to note that 250,000 US $ have been allocated towards this guarantee fund in this year's national budget. This is an encouraging support by the government to the economic empowerment of women. These programs were initiated during the emergency phase and have so far served as best practices. Our long-term vision as a national gender mechanism is to influence the relevant partners to be part and parcel of these programs and initiate new specific women programs so that the ministry can focus mainly on facilitation, monitoring and the mainstreaming role.
One of the critical challenges facing Rwandan and Women in particular is the problem of poverty. It is basically structural in nature but also a consequence of the 1994 genocide. A programme for formulating a National Poverty Reduction Strategy has been launched and women are part of this. Gender mainstreaming is taking place in National Population Policy, AIDS Control and Prevention Programmes, Unity and Reconciliation, National Youth Council Programmes, Reproductive Health Programmes to mention but a few.
It is gratifying to note that through gender awareness raising and advocacy particularly through media, resistance to bring about gender-equitable change is gradually breaking and different stakeholders are taking their own initiatives to mainstream gender in their programmes. For example The Ministry of Justice has launched a fight against sexual violence against girls and women through prompt trials of suspects. This has brought a drastic reduction in the incidence of sexual violence.
Members of Parliament have embarked on a nation wide campaign to sensitise the population about the gender-based violence and the role of women in national development as a strategy of achieving sustainable development.
The National machinery with the support of UNDP and ECA will in the next four months or so formulate a framework for developing a National Gender Policy. The main thrust will be on poverty reduction strategy and constitution making process. This policy intends to cover interests of all categories including vulnerable groups such as child-headed households, people living with disabilities, the elderly and others. This policy will create the enabling environment for gender mainstreaming and a more speedy and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.
-The International women's day in Rwanda has been effectively used as the right forum to highlight important challenges such as violence against the girl-child, poverty and AIDS pandemic. This has been taken as this year's theme with a jointly Plan of Action to address these challenges.
In a bid to protect the legal rights of women and girl children and ensure equal access and control over property the government of Rwanda has passed a law on inheritance, liberalities and succession which gives women and girls the right to succession and inheritance from their spouses and parents. Besides giving women equal access to property, the law sets a precedent for future legislation that is gender sensitive. This law needs support in terms of sensitisation and dissemination at the national level. It is our hope that countries in the region that still have discriminatory inheritance and succession laws will consider taking a lesson from the Rwandan experience.
The Commission for Human Rights has been put in place and soon the one for Constitutional Review will be in place. They will provide opportunity to fight gender-based violence and discrimination and develop a new constitution that is gender sensitive.
In the area of resolving conflicts and promoting peace Rwanda has registered modest but encouraging achievements in the last five years. A Pan African conference on "Peace, Gender and Development" which was convened in 1997 that culminated in the issue of the Kigali declaration and Kigali Plan of Action is an important landmark in the quest for peace.
It is important to mention some of the important activities implemented in a bid to promote peace. These include:
- Building of a peace village by a Women Association of genocide survivors which was dedicated and named after the former president of South Africa, Nelson MANDELA.
- The launching of a programme "Action Campaign for Peace" by a women's umbrella organisation Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe and its 35 affiliated member associations. It is through such peace initiatives that UNESCO awarded Rwandan women a prize for Peace and Tolerance in 1997.
- An International Peace Conference on Women as Partners of Peace is being organised under the auspices of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Exchange Office of International Visitors of the US Department of State and will be hosted by the Rwanda Government from 24th to 30`h June 2000 in Kigali. This is the second phase of an ongoing peace building initiative started in February this year. This conference will bring together among others women leaders from eight countries involved in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and signatories to the Lusaka Accords. The goal of the conference will be to arrive at recommendations and strategies for peace that will be passed to the contending parties and to the United Nations agencies involved in trying to bring peace in the troubled regions. Women from different parts of Africa, as well as other conflict-ridden areas of the world, will deliberate on tangible strategies to include women in more substantive ways in the peace building processes.
The National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation has been set up with a mandate of building a culture of peace and co-existence among Rwandans. One of its programmes in national civic education in which "Gender Awareness Raising" forms an important component.
One of the greatest challenges facing my country and the International community after the 1994 genocide and massacres is to resolve the problem of bringing justice to thousand of genocide suspects and redressing the grievances of the genocide survivors and putting an end to the culture of impunity. The conventional courts cannot effectively solve this problem hence reviving and restructuring the GACACA COURTS, which is a form of participatory justice. Women are playing a vital role in this institution.
Initiatives geared towards improving girls access to education have been launched. These include:
-Promoting quality education for girls by setting up model schools by FAWE-Rwanda Chapter (Forum for African Women Educationalists). FAWE-Rwanda has set up a model school for girls in Kigali and plans to set up four similar schools in other parts of the country. The school enrolls mostly girls from rural poor families and a bursary fund has been put in place for such girls. Emphasis is put on training these girls in science subjects, which has not been a common practice in Rwanda.
-Affirmative actions have been adopted in a newly established institute of Science and Technology where female enrolment has increased from 13% to 3% since its inception in 1997.
-In order for the Beijing Platform for action to be implemented and coordinated effectively bearing in mind the necessity to set up time bound targets, a national secretariat has been set up with a clear mandate of mobilising resources and co-ordinating the efforts of various stakeholders involved in the implementation of the platform for action as a strategy for ensuring maximum impact.
In conclusion, five years down the road after endorsing the Beijing Platform for Action, Rwandan women have registered significant achievements in various fields. These achievements can be attributed the government's political will and support to the policy of promoting gender equality and women advancement as a pre-requisite for a harmonious and sustainable development for the entire society. Secondly, it is a result of the existing partnership between government and civil society and the support extended by the international community particularly during the critical phase of emergency.
Despite the above achievements and the facilitating factor, a lot of critical challenges to the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action remain to be surmounted. High on the Agenda are the issues of poverty, growing HIV-AIDS pandemic, violence against women and the girl-child, armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region, the heavy foreign debt-burden and the structural adjustment policies which threaten to wipe out some of the achievements so far realised thus placing women in a more precarious position than before and the future of our country in jeopardy. Some concrete action must be taken today and not tomorrow and the momentum of external resource inflow kept high.
Chairperson, allow me to end on this note by pledging our continued commitment to the advancement of women and gender equality. This should be complemented by the increased support and understanding of the International Community in light of the highly dynamic and challenging global environment.
I thank you all.