Gender equality and inclusion in the workplace is not only good for business, but also helps advance economic growth and reduces poverty. In Rwanda, small and medium enterprises (SMEs)account for 98 percent of private companies, making them drivers of economic growth and job creation. To create real and lasting change towards gender equality in the workplace, we need to work directly with SMEs.
Our activities Feed the Future Rwanda Hanga Akazi and Kungahara Wagura Amasoko partnered with the Government of Rwanda's Gender Monitoring Office to support SMEs by helping them adopt gender-sensitive policies and processes within their organizations through a pilot of the Gender Equality Seal Certification program that is geared specifically towards SMEs. The Gender Equality Seal program is a global program launched by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). UNDP has been implementing it in cooperation with UN Women since 2017, however until recently, only large companies have participated in it.
The pilot to expand this program to include SMEs launched on July 10, 2023 in collaboration with USAID-funded activities Feed the Future Rwanda Hanga Akazi and Kungahara Wagura Amasoko. The kick-off event gathered ten agri-food SMEs.
"I am happy to see the commitment of the Rwandan Government in implementing such initiatives," said Clement Kirenga, the UNDP/Rwanda National Coordinator for Inclusive Governance.
This program aims to empower SMEs to create a more inclusive and respectful workplace culture. It will encourage SMEs to adopt gender-sensitive policies and practices that enhance the market system transformation in Rwanda by fostering a more equitable, diverse and thriving business environment. This not only benefits individuals and communities, but also drives economic growth, innovation, and sustainable development.
Rwanda is among leaders in gender equality and women's empowerment. Women make up 61 percent of the Rwandan Parliament. But, in the private sector, women occupy only 32 percent of the decision-making positions.
Experts from the Gender Equality Mainstreaming will provide a comprehensive series of coaching sessions, evaluations, and action plan development, so SMEs participating in the pilot program can become certified by Gender Monitoring Office as gender equality champions.
"At the Gender Monitoring Office we are happy to see small and medium enterprises that take the lead on adopting the Gender Equality Seal program, because this program cannot be a success without the participation of SMEs who contribute so much to our country's economy," said Florien Habiyaremye Rurihose, Deputy Chief of the Gender Monitoring Office.
As Rwanda is heavily reliant on agriculture, USAID, through Feed the Future Rwanda Hanga Akazi and Kungahara Wagura Amasoko activities, works to address women's economic empowerment by supporting female entrepreneurs and working towards gender equality in the workplace. Through these activities, USAID is scaling private sector-led approaches to develop economic opportunities and accelerate agriculture-led economic growth. This is helping job-seekers, especially women, youth and persons with disabilities, to find new or better employment.
"When Hanga Akazi visited us and introduced the Gender Equality Seal program, it made me realize that we had not put much thought on how we would engage more women to be a part of our team, or how mindful we are in our practices to ensure that our environment was equitable for the women on our team," said Esther Muthee, operations manager at Masaka Creamery.
By the end of the pilot program, these SMEs will have not only adopted new practices, but also significantly improved and mainstreamed inclusive policies and practices for their businesses. Their success will show how creating healthier, equitable environments for employees is not reserved for large companies alone. SMEs have the power to drive positive change and cultivate workplaces that empower all their talents.
As SMEs embrace gender equality and inclusion, they are not only paving the way for a brighter future for their employees, but also unlocking new business opportunities. By embracing the values of equality and inclusion, they are gaining access to new markets, attracting a diverse pool of talented individuals, and retaining their top performers, all while fueling growth and contributing to Rwanda's sustainable economic development.