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According to the National Institute of Statistics (NISR), only 32.5 percent of all businesses in the country are owned by females. Women also are paid 13 percent less than men’s monthly salaries.

In industry terms, massive gender gaps emerge especially in transport, construction, mining and information technology.

Yet, the last decade has seen enough gender balance in the public sector; women take up half of the cabinet seats and more than 60 percent in the parliament.

Chief Gender Monitor at Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) Rose Rwabuhihi observes that the diversified nature of the sector contributes to the imbalances.

“The private sector is very diversified. They don’t have the same rules and regulations as the public sector. Each and every company has its own way of doing business and the way they are engaging with men and women working there is very different.

“We saw that the women’s pyramid was very narrow at the top in terms of diversity. And when you go down, it is becoming bigger. In construction, for example, you will find some cleaning, some transporting bricks, but the higher you go where there is more income, the less you see them,” Rwabuhihi said.

Among other issues blocking gender balance in the private sector is women’s limited access to financing. A recent Finscope report indicated that women lag behind in accessing and using formal financial services at a 7 percent gap. The report also revealed that banks trust women less.

Also, Transparency International Rwanda found that one in ten women face sexual harassment at workplace or stops work due to pregnancy or family duties.

Evidently, gender issues in the private sector cut across non-business lives, revealed Rwabuhihi.

“The effect is big. You see a lot of girls, going around having issues of teen pregnancy among others because they need resources and they can’t get them. But there are so many things that boys and girls can do and earn income,” she said.

The 2016 Africa Human Development estimated the economic costs of gender gaps in the labor market between 2010 and 2014 at nearly US$95 billion annually in sub-Saharan Africa alone, equivalent to about 6 percent of its GDP.

Traditional mindsets and lack of information, according to her, pull the gaps wider.

“We have been told girls don’t climb up the roof. Attached to the way we dress traditionally, that is not something pushing you to climb up because of the way you have been raised.”

Gender roles designed by society affect the way a person engages in professional work, she states, adding that the norm remains.

“The way we are educating our girls and boys today is still maintaining those wrong attitudes. Some people don’t feel safe when they go in a car being driven by a woman. But it is not because more women are making more accidents than men. That is because of the mindset.”

To harness gender issues, UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Rwanda joined hands with the Private Sector Federation and Gender Monitoring Office as a technical and financial partner.

According to Stephen Rodriques, UNDP Rwanda Resident Representative, gender balance is a human rights issue. It, he observed, sometimes involves discrimination and stigma.

“UNDP is involved in this to promote the human rights of people and to ensure that their rights are respected, and they have equal opportunities.” Surprisingly, he said, many employers are not conscious of the gender inequalities in their companies. “It’s the awareness and the commitment that hasn’t been there.”

Rodriques reiterated that gender imbalances in the private sector have overlapping effects beyond the business boundaries.

“Historically, we’ve always seen an overlap. For example, when the men control the income of the household, we don’t see the children getting the same amount of education and health care as when women control the income of the household.”

“If all policies in the workplace prevent women from getting jobs, it means it’s also preventing children from getting proper health care, from getting proper education, from getting proper nutrition.

Through the Gender Equality Seal programme, companies are given tools to identify internal gender gaps, to analyse various aspects from the language used in the office to nursery facilities in order to generate data for evidence-based advocacy.

PSF Chairman Robert Bapfakurera says that gender inequalities have been identified in the private sector and PSF is working with the private sector to change that.

“It has been very clear that females appear in low-level positions. We are trying to encourage the business people to consider women and men equally at different levels of work including the management.

Under a five-year strategic plan currently running, the PSF Chairman is optimistic that present gaps will be eradicated by the end of the programme.

Last week, the Private Sector Federation conducted a countrywide training targeting its leaders from provincial levels with intentions of promoting gender equality. The trainees looked at governance, accountability, budgeting and strategic marketing among others.

Members of PSF have continued to sign commitment agreements of promoting gender in the sector. This would elevate the country’s socio-economic growth.

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