Blog of Mary Muia, SI UNEA Representative Nairobi Center & Grace Kayirangwa, Soroptimist Rwanda Union.
The 6th edition of the Women Deliver Conference #WD2023, was held in Kigali, Rwanda between the 17 to 21 July 2023. Known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda’s stunning scenery and warm, friendly people offered a unique experience to delegates including Heads of State and Government, policy makers, civil society, grassroot advocates, philanthropists, young people and researchers.
Within the Soroptimist International Africa Federation (SIAF), Mary Muia from Kenya and Grace Kayirangwa from Rwanda represented SI in the global gender equality conference, which was held in Africa for the first time ever. The theme of the #WD2023 conference was: Spaces, Solidarity, and Solutions, where the conference structure was inclusive, with the aim of co-created spaces that foster solidarity for sustainable solutions on gender equality.
His Excellency, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, graced the opening ceremony alongside President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Katalin Novák of Hungary, and President Sahle-Work Zewde of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, former heads of state and government, as well as the heads of international organisations.
“In recent decades, there have been meaningful results in closing the gap between women and men, in terms of opportunity and achievement. Still, across the globe, women remain vulnerable to various forms of injustice. We must challenge ourselves to do things differently, and with a sense of urgency. (…) Commitments which are not followed by action, cannot fulfil our promise to build a more just, equitable, and prosperous future for the generations that follow us.”
Other speakers echoed the need for concerted global efforts to sustain the progress in promoting gender equality. Dr. Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director noted:
“We see it in the number of women in legislative positions that have doubled in a generation, in reduced global maternal mortality and in women’s increased life expectancy. 155 countries now have laws on domestic violence. 140 countries have legislation on sexual harassment at the work place. These are all to be celebrated. And what a better place to celebrate them than here in Rwanda, a country ranked among the top 10 in the world for promoting gender equality. Congratulations!!”
Phumzile Mlambo, Women Deliver Board Chair said:
“Over the past two to three decades, we have made enormous progress in gender equality. We are here to share the progress that we have made, and the losses that we have made. We have solutions, we have evidence, we have actions and lessons that we can share with each other so that we strengthen ourselves as we move forward. The solutions we need are political, social and economic. We have to make sure that our momentum becomes unstoppable”.
Also, at the opening ceremony, Excellencies Presidents Macky Sall, Katalin Novák, and Sahle-Work Zewde, alongside Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, Founder, SOLA Afghan, participated in a high-level panel discussion on the state of gender equality globally. Prior to the Women Deliver 2023 opening ceremony, two important side events were held: the UNFPA Pre- Conference on bodily autonomy attended by Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame and the Ministerial Forum for Ministers in charge of Gender, hosted by Minister Prof. Jeannette Bayisenge.
The dialogue pointed out that; conflict affects women and girls adversely as a major barrier towards gender equality. A peaceful world is necessary for achievement of gender equality, with inclusive solutions that support all. Gender equality is not yet achieved, even for advanced economies. We need access to quality education for women and girls and other minority groups to attain university education and spaces in highest leadership and ways to their economic independence.
The conference brought together over 6300 delegates, 600 speakers, 300 organizations, 200 side events and 240 exhibitors. There were 160 artists and storytellers, with a rapper and dancer at the plenary and a storyteller at the opening ceremonies. Key highlights raised during conference talks and discussions included:
- The need to restructure systems and policies to reach young people.
- Actors at every level are needed to create solidarity and bring solutions.
- There is a need for unity and determination in health care, economic empowerment and advocacy.
- We must amplify “voices” of the underrepresented and unreached.
- Stakeholders must rethink advocacy and partnerships, by evaluating whether our interventions really work, and what needs to be improved.
- There is a need to create a network of youth worldwide to break the barriers to gender equality.
- Calling on stakeholders to disseminate lessons learnt to all our networks. Grace and I just did it by sharing these highlights!
- The intersectionality of gender equality and climate change is paramount.
- The journey to gender equality is far from over.
We made connections with many like-minded implementers and global advocates, such as the Every woman Treaty, whose main focus is how to interact with media, under 35 women leaders, how to advocate and the next step in ending violence against women and girls.
Of relevance to Soroptimist International Africa Federation is the linkage and networks we established with the FEMNET (The African Women’s Development and Communication Network) project pillars; “Amplifying Women and Girls’ Voices” that focus on increasing the visibility, significance, and legitimacy of African women and girls’ voices and agency. This includes supporting African women to build communities, share skills, re-write or shift narratives and amplify each other’s voices. FEMNET also continues to be a formidable flag bearer for African women and girls in global spaces.
In conclusion, the Women Deliver gender equality conference is highly relevant to the work Soroptimist International does at grassroot national and global levels. It will be strategic for the SI Federations to consider partnership and participation in future Women Deliver conferences through sending; delegations, collaboration in WD conference preparations, co-host plenary sessions, high level political segments and/or side events.
Connection with Soroptimist Projects during #WD2023!
It was exciting to connect with One of the Soroptimist International 2019-2020 Road to Equality 6 media advocates, Rugiatu Neneh from Sierra Leone, doing an amazing work to rescue girls and young women from Female Genital Mutilation and gender-based violence. Rugiatu was speechless, as we shared a moment at the Kigali Convention Centre, where she expressed gratitude to Soroptimist for the lasting partnership that enhanced her grassroot work in Freetown in protecting girls and women domestic abuse.
A Visit to SI Rwanda Club Projects!
After the conference, a visit to Soroptimist Kigali club education project where we graced a graduation day at San Marco School. This is a legacy project providing quality education to 600 pupils. The school would benefit from a creative computer laboratory smart classroom that would foster opportunities for teaching and learning by integrating learning technology such as computers, specialized software, audience response technology and audio-visual capabilities.
SI Muhanga Community Education Centre:
A drive out of Kigali city was another exciting visit to rural Rwanda, another project by Soroptimist Muhanga Club. Whose community education center is aimed at equipping single women with vocational economic empowerment skills in dressmaking and tailoring, literacy classes, as well as early childhood development (ECD) classes for their children. This is a multi-purpose center in its formative years, courtesy of SI Rwanda Union project actions. See below pictures.
In San Marco School, this child walked towards and warmly hugged me after the graduation ceremony and he said:
“Thank you for teaching us, give me some water, goodbye”