Rwanda: Activists Call for Efforts Beyond Policies, Quotas for Gender Equality to Be Achieved

Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the founder of School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) which is currently based in Rwanda, revealed that it is only in the country that Afghan girls can legally go to school.

She made the statement during a Commonwealth Women’s Forum session with the theme “Women in Leadership: Beyond Numbers,” in Kigali on Monday, June 20.

“I come to you from the only country in the world where girls’ education is illegal,” Shabana said, and the audience gasped in disbelief before she added that, “it’s 2022.”

She added that while their recent admission program will cater for Afghan refugees all over the world, girls who live in Afghanistan won’t be able to apply or be admitted because of restrictions.

“I have received calls from several families but there is one particular father who called me and said: ‘If my daughters have a chance to be admitted at SOLA, I am willing to become a refugee in the neighbouring country,'” Shabana added.

She then made a call for everyone to be an ally for girls’ education advocacy.

SOLA moved to Rwanda in August 2021, and has since been grateful to the country for hosting them.

Although this is an isolated case where countries deprive education rights from women and girls, other countries also need to put more effort that goes beyond policies and quotas should gender equality be achieved, at least according to panellists and speakers at the session.

“It is all about education. Make sure that every boy and girl in our countries gets that education opportunity,” said Harriett Baldwin, a member of parliament in the United Kingdom said.

The main issue being going beyond data, just like the session’s theme, it was also acknowledged that while reasonable efforts have been put in women empowerment to achieve gender equality, it is not enough.

Women electoral quotas, for instance, which are a form of affirmative action or equal opportunity measure designed to address the slow pace of change in the participation of women in areas of society where they are historically under-represented, should not be fully relied on, according to Cherie Blair, Founder and Chair of Omnia Strategy LLP.

“It’s not enough to make quotas for women, if it is only the fortunate women that can afford to take it up. If it is ‘Porsche girls’ replacing ‘Porsche boys’, we are not actually doing anything,” Blair said.

This was echoed by Thembisile Nkadimeng, the Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance in South Africa, who said that there is a need to advocate for women empowerment in the real sense. She gave an example of quotas in high learning institutions which are complied with, but in the end, decision making positions are dominated by men anyway.

“If it means registering her at a university, be direct, be focused, and calculate daily what your outcome is,” Nkadimeng said.

Other issues brought to the table were making sure women have access to finance, and women empowering fellow women.

More than 500 delegates are in Kigali at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum to discuss solutions to address pressing challenges affecting women and girls across the Commonwealth, and to ensure member countries have robust policies and programmes to meet gender equality targets by 2030.

The Forum, which is happening in Africa for the very first time, has a theme: Delivering a Common Future: Transforming Gender Equality.

Besides the Women’s Forum, several other clusters have been lined up including the Heads of Government Meeting (the main event), the Youth’s Forum which started on Sunday, People’s Forum, and Business Forum.

Different social and networking events are also planned from today for more than 5,000 delegates from across the Commonwealth.

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