Davos, 24 January 2015

On the last of the World Economic Forum, President Kagame joined Prime Minister Erna Soldberg of Norway; Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever for a discussion on gender parity.

The panel titled Ending Poverty Through Parity explored challenges faced to achieve gender parity globally.

Describing Rwanda’s stance on parity, President Kagame emphasized that gender equality is a human right:

“During the process of liberation and after the Genocide, the first thing to come to our mind was how do we bring everybody in the country to participate and be part of the change we want in the country. That means we had to bring in women as well. It is an issue of rights, it is everything that is right to do.”

“We thought our policies and politics needed to involve everybody but we were also aware women were a disadvantaged group in our society for many years for different reasons. One of our mission was to deal with that particular problem as well as benefit from it. 52% of our population is women. To be thinking of a problem that affects everybody and keeping out 52% doesn’t make sense,” President Kagame added.

With Rwanda ranking as the highest number of women in Parliament in the world, President Kagame attributed this high number of women in decision making roles to a willingness to go beyond setting quotas:

“We mobilized the population to make sure women are significantly represented at every level. We started with 30% and we went beyond. It is not just quota, it is encouraging women to be there themselves and make sure they participate.”

Asked what men can do to be part of ending gender inequality, President Kagame called on men to start by not being an obstacle to women’s well being.

Echoing the need for men to be part of ending inequality, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women spoke on the HeforShe campaign that involves men and urged men to make the choice to support gender parity:

“Patriarchy is bestowed on men at birth. You either make a choice to fight it or you choose to enjoy it.” 

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever added that creating an environment that ensures gender balance needs to be engrained in organizations’ practices and added that a system of incentives for ending gender inequality was not sufficient:

“As leaders of companies, we have to work values and behaviors. Instead of giving money to people that do something that you need to do anyway, why don’t you start something that punish people that don’t do.”

Highlighting the importance of addressing historical inequality, President Kagame told the audience that specific policies to close the gap are essential:

“If you lock someone in a room, it is your responsibility to open the door and let them out. For years there was this huge gap and we want to see acceleration that ensures that a difference is made.”

President Kagame concluded by expressing optimism for the future of gender parity:

“We need to continue doing much more. We have learnt lessons along the way, we know what is possible and the mistakes that need to be corrected.”

For pictures of President Kagame’s participation at the World Economic Forum, visit www.flickr.com/paulkagame