The case for investing in girls and women is ethical, social and economic. Women account for half of the global population, however persistent barriers still impede their equal participation and productive capacity, and yet, women have the potential to be a fast-growing consumer group. What is even more compelling is, increasing gender parity in the global economy could add $12 to 28 trillion in annual GDP by 2025. Gender parity is an imperative and we all stand to gain.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which benchmarked 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity, showed that an average gap of 32% remains to be closed worldwide across four dimensions – economy, education, health, and politics. If current trends remain, and all things are held equal, this global gender gap would take 100 years to be closed across 106 countries, this should be a pressing call to action.

Blocking women’s economic potential is costly, and so is time spent in unpaid care work – with women spending at least twice as much time on unpaid domestic work as men. Gender-based violence remains a global epidemic and affects more than 1 in 3 women over their lifetime. Political representation remains an area with a significant gap as only 23% of parliament seats globally are held by women. The stakes are too high not to push for gender equality at all levels. Some countries are leading the way in closing the gender equality gap, with commitment coming from the top.

Rwanda’s President Kagame shared in a recent speech: “Women and girls constitute half of humanity and they are equal in ability, in every way. Guaranteeing their equal rights is therefore common sense.[…] It is up to leaders at every level to ensure that there is accountability for changing harmful societal norms.[…] Our approach all along has been to focus on the benefits that gender equality brings to society.

Rwanda is ranked 4th in the world in closing gender equality gaps, and frequently appears in the global top 10 countries, that have crossed the threshold of closing more than 80% of their overall gender gap, including closing nearly 100% of gender gap in health and survival.

What is Rwanda doing differently? What are some of the levers for increasing gender equality, regardless of a country’s development stage?

Women as decision-makers

Rwanda’s constitution requires that women constitute at least 30% of the Cabinet and 50% of Parliament, resulting in Rwanda having the highest number of women in parliament in the world, with 64% of seats held by women. The country has remained number one over the past several years. In Rwanda,the Government’s commitment to women participation has resulted in gender sensitive laws and policies, including facilitating access to finance; equal access to education ; remunerated maternity leave; low wage gap; protection of property rights, and mainstreaming gender perspective in policy frameworks and budgeting.

Labour force participation

Rwanda has a high female labour force participation, estimated at 86% compared to 63% in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2017. The wage gap is also smaller, as women earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by men, with a regional comparison of 69 cents in Ghana and 55 cents in South Africa. The U.K. is at 67 cents while the U.S. is at 74 cents per dollar.

These numbers in labour force participation have remained consistently high and result from the Government’s commitment to gender equality and women empowerment. Policies in place include paid maternity leave for 3 months, which promote retention and continued participation in the labour market.

Strong laws and enforcement in violence against women 

Violence against women is a human right violation with moral and socio-economic impact. Victims require support in terms of health services; counselling; legal fees; child and welfare support, as well as lost wages, productivity and potential. It is estimated that gender-based violence costs around 2% of the global GDP, which is equivalent to US$1.5 trillion.

In Rwanda, specialized resources are put in place across the country to prevent and protect women against violence. A key strategy in addressing gender-based violence (GBV) is through Isange One Stop Centers (IOSC). Isange” means “feel welcome” in Kinyarwanda, and the centers are put in place to help survivors of GBV and protect them from further violence. The IOSC is a coordinated approach in prevention of abuse and collaborative service provision. The model was adopted and scaled up to complement existing efforts in preventing and responding to GBV and child abuse.

Men as strategic partners

Gender is a cross-cutting area and  programs across Rwanda, including preventing GBV, have a component that target men’s participation. This is also important in cases where men are at relative disadvantage compared to women. The role of men and boys in gender parity, particularly in changing attitudes and behaviors, and sharing power and privilege, remain among key strategies in reaching gender equality.

The progress in gender parity in Rwanda was largely driven by the Government’s commitment, which shows how gender-sensitive leadership brings benefits to communities and entire countries. Gender parity is fundamental to human development and economic growth.

A commitment to gender-based policies and budgeting, an emphasis on promoting female labor force participation, a strong focus on fighting gender-based violence and engaging men in reaching a gender-equal society have made Rwanda an inspiring example.

As President Kagame said: “After all, no one loses when women and girls experience equality and empowerment”. We actually stand to gain a lot.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Future Africa Forum.