Rwandan Women in UK Celebrate International Womens Day

The Rwanda Sisterhood Association in the UK celebrated International Women’s Day on 15th March by organising a conference themed: Women’s role in Forging Unity and Reconciliation, which attracted over 170 women from 14 different countries.

The conference held at the Mayor of Southwark’s office complex in Southwark Borough, London, was hosted by his Lordship Abdul Mohamed, the Mayor of Southwark and also attended by the spouses of the High Commissioner’s from Rwanda, Tanzania and Namibia.

In his welcome remarks, Mayor Mohammed shared his own experience, noting that women are most powerful when they work in Unity and gave an example of the borough that he leads which has, reportedly, been the most productive council because of being led by women united in their efforts.

He also commended the association for taking the initiative to organise the event and encouraged them to strive to unite and continue empowering each other.

In remarks read on his behalf, the Rwanda High Commissioner to UK, H.E Williams Nkurunziza, commended the association for organising the event and shared with participants the highlights of Rwanda’s progress in women empowerment.

He noted, "Rwandan Government under President Paul Kagame has made a public commitment to make women empowerment a core of its process of governance.

Of note is the fact that women parliamentarians have been key drivers of progressive gender policies as well as strong advocates of gender empowerment programmes. The results of these initiatives have been phenomenal:

  • 64% of parliamentarians are women - the highest in world, followed at a distant second by Andora at 50%.

  • 45 % of all SME businesses in Rwanda are controlled by women

  • 39% of accounts in Savings Cooperatives are held by women

  • 38% of all executive positions are held by women

  • Four powerful Ministries in the country: Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Energy, Health and Disaster Management are in women’s hands.

  • 43.3% of district and sector level seats are held by women

  • 97% of all school age going girls see in school, higher than boys at only 95%."

"These gains have enriched, not impoverished, our society. They have also demonstrate what is possible when you have the right leadership, articulating the right policies.

In our quest for unity, reconciliation and reconstruction, we have benefited from women as healing agents, thought leaders and peace builders. I hope your deliberations, today, will affirm this reality and strengthen your resolve as advocates for a more equitable world," he added.

The conference was also addressed by Advocate Karen McKenzie, Acting Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London who spoke about the importance of Women in building a nation and applauded the role played by Rwandan women who, along with the rest of the Rwandan people deserve the credit of Rwanda’s transition from it’s terrible past.

She also vowed to make efforts in her role to ensure that the initiatives used by the Rwandan leadership were emulated in other parts of the world that are emerging from crisis .

Mrs Gladys Kavuma, the Kabaka of Buganda’s representative for women’s affairs in the UK and Ireland who was also a speaker on the day delivered an emotional speech, encouraging mothers to love and look after their children whole heartedly and to continuously make it their primary role.

She further shared a moving testimony about her son John Ddungu a gifted Chemistry student at Oxford University who tragically passed away in 2009 at only 21 years old.

Other speeches of the day included a motivational speech from Ms Sandra Godley a MOBO nominated gospel artist who spoke about the impact women in authority had towards the emancipation of women.

Godley introduced a concept to the women called “Paying forward” in which she argues that when something good is done to you, then in turn you must do good for someone else and pass on the good without expecting something in return.

She lauded women in the professional world who are "breaking the glass ceilings by using their own leadership styles instead of simply copying from others."

The speech was followed by some entertainment and another speech from Pastor Grace Serwanga, on Healing, Forgiveness and Breaking Barriers.The Pastor and Solicitor emphasised on the importance of forgiveness and how women need to redeem themselves by letting go of the hurt and pain inflicted by someone in their lives in order to find their inner peace and that forgiveness is key to enduring and long lasting relationships giving examples of how genocide survivors in Rwanda are able to live past their history because of forgiveness and healing.

Commenting on the event, the president of the association, Ms. Souvenir Mutesi noted: “I am very proud to be Rwandan. Seeing the significant steps Rwanda has made towards empowering women, and all the government has achieved in this regard makes me walk with my head held high.

My message to all my Rwandan sisters in the UK and all friends of the Sisterhood is that women in the UK have the potential to make significant achievements in their communities and beyond if they work together.”

“Driven by our motto – Be your Sisters’ Keeper - the association’s members refuse to let what they went through as individuals and as a nation hold them back or determine their future. We are sowing a seed of unity to inspire each other in-order to fight off the strong hold of post-genocide effects,” she added.

The conference was treated to a taste of Rwandan music by gospel artist Jackie Mugabo, a 15 - year old Rwandan artist Devine, and the Bene Ubumwe traditional troupe. Other artists included Sandra Godley of UK and Rachel Njeri from Kenya.

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