Rwanda was held up Saturday as a beacon for gender equality as the business and political elite at the Davos forum underlined the importance of achieving parity in ending poverty.
The central African country, which two decades ago was struggling to recover from genocide that claimed 800,000 lives, became the first country in 2008 to have a parliament dominated by women.
Today, female lawmakers make up 64 percent of parliament, outperforming the world average of one in five.
“In 20 years, so much can happen in a country because of leadership,” said UN Women head Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“The culture in Rwanda is not different from other parts of Africa. But people take the cue from the leader.
“If you send the right message, people do change,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, former deputy president of South Africa.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said his government made a conscious decision to push for the participation of women in the country’s reconstruction following genocide.
“During the process of liberation and cleaning up the mess after the genocide, the first thing to come to our minds is how to bring everyone in the country to participate in the kind of change we want in the country.
“There you have to bring in women as well… we thought that in our policies and politics we need to involve everybody,” he said.
A quota of 30 percent was put in place for parliament that eventually led to women dominating.
Highlighting how having females in official positions has helped, Kagame cited the justice system where women are present in all levels of law enforcement.
“If a case (of violence against a girl or a woman) happens, it is reported in real time, and the combination of police and attorney deals with the case and prosecute in a very short time,” he said.
– ‘It’s just fair’ –
Philanthrophist Melinda Gates drew the link between the role played by women in slashing child mortality in Rwanda.
“President Paul Kagame’s country has the steepest decline in childhood deaths in the world,” she told the Davos forum.
Rwanda’s child-mortality rate more than halved in the five years between 2005 and 2010.
Gates added that there is also a strong economic argument in pushing for females to have the same rights as men.
“If you invest in a girl or women, you’re investing in everyone else.
“Because she’s the centre of the family, she’s the nurse, … for every dollar she gets, she ploughs 99 percent back into the family,” said Gates.
“So we know it’s fundamentally important to make sure her health is there. Make sure she has the decision-making voice in the family and that she gets an education.
“If she’s educated, she’s twice as likely to educate her daughter,” said Gates.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg however questioned the necessity of bringing out an economic argument in the quest for gender parity.
“We always make an argument about why we should invest in women. I think it’s very easy — it’s just fair. It’s a human right.
“It’s more provocative that we’re not doing it than we’re doing it.”