Women Parliamentarians International Conference under the theme “Gender, Nation Building and the Role of Parliaments”

23 Feb 2007

Kigali, 23 February 2007: A two day Women Parliamentarians International Conference under the theme “Gender, Nation Building and the Role of Parliaments” was held in Kigali from 22 – 23 February. Over 400 delegates, mostly parliamentarians from all over the world and representatives from the United Nations, International Organizations, Private Sector and Civil Society. The conference was officially opened and closed by H.E. Paul Kagame the President of the Republic of Rwanda and honored by the presence of the first ever African woman elected president, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the President of the Republic of Liberia. Mrs. Cherie Blair, the UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Ms Anne Tibaijuka, the Director for the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, Gilbert Houngbo, the UNIFEM Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Moez Doraid and Dr Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank were also present at the conference and addressed participants on the role women parliamentarians can play in developing their nations.

The aim of the conference was to share experiences and best practices on the role of Parliaments in promoting nation building through gender equality; build parliamentary networks and partnerships in promoting development and gender equality; build partnerships with development partners in the area of nation building; and to consolidate gains made in the last years and strategies to promote gender and nation building in the next decade.

Gilbert Houngbo, Director for the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, recognized the positive change in promoting gender empowerment since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on the Status of Women. The world has to ensure that democracy works for all and thus focus on achieving the ultimate goal of a human–centered development.

“With regard to women’s participation in Parliament, we have seen that the larger the democratic framework and level of democratization of a country, the greater the impact on women’s political participation by creating more space to accommodate their contribution”, said Houngbo.

“Parliamentarians and policymakers have a critical role to play in promoting nationally owned programs for a faster pace of socio-economic and political transformation” said President Kagame. “It is painfully evident that gender inequality constrains growth and poverty reduction”, he added. He stressed that the fact that the increased representation of women in decision making positions should further demonstrate that positive change is possible.

“The rate of increase of number of women in parliament has been faster in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last 40 years than in any other region of the world”, said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “It will be wise to us all to remain eternally focused and determined so that we can maximize our successes in the struggle for achieving gender parity. This is imperative because notwithstanding all of the achievements thus far, there is indeed no guarantee for actualizing and sustaining the dreams of increased women’s participation in the body polity and rebirth of our nations”, added President Sirleaf. The President of Liberia praised the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum for serving as a forum for the free exchange of ideas and opinions, for research and the development of strategies that aim at prioritizing gender integration in all national policies. “The forum provides a model and an example for Africa”, revealed Ellen J. Sirleaf.

UNDP support to the Rwanda Parliament and in particular the support to the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum (FFRP) has enabled the Forum to reinforce its institutional and organizational capacity and lobby for the adoption of the legislative framework requisite to gender equality and the protection of women’s rights as well as the mainstreaming of gender into the Parliamentary structure. The support to the Forum also includes the elaboration of its strategic plan and advocacy through international conferences and meetings with women at grassroots and in different levels of responsibilities to exchange and reinforce partnership on the promotion of gender.

The atmosphere at the conference was both enthusiastic and optimistic, though serious and reserved when discussing the conference’s heavy themes. Arranged around four thematic topics, including gender, nation building and the role of parliaments; gender based violence as an obstacle to development; gender and social economic empowerment; and finally partnerships for nation building, each theme included distinguished speakers grouped into a panel with individual presentations followed by lively discussions. From these discussions, a Kigali Declaration on Gender, Nation Building and Role of Parliaments was drafted.

Speakers at the conference converged to the fact that women play a critical role in the development of nations and in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. What has been achieved to date in gender empowerment is encouraging but much is still to be done. And the women parliamentarians are now looking beyond the numbers to focus on how they can make an impact. They want to learn the rules through training programmes, use the rules by introducing women’s issues into debates and change the rules to maximize their impact on the political process.