Today on the OxHRH Blog we are delighted to present short overview summarising the Opening Ceremony and first four panels of our international conference ‘Women and Poverty: A Human Rights Approach’ in Kigali, Rwanda. Photos from the event can be found on the conference page under the ‘Events’ tab above or here.
The proceedings of the Opening Ceremony were commenced by Prof Timothy Endicott, Dean of the Oxford Faculty of Law. He emphasised the need for greater understanding around the issue of women and poverty, the importance of making connections in order to facilitate this understanding, and that human rights law and the position of women is a concern for all lawyers. Ms Caroline Ojwang from the University of Cape Town reinforced this idea of enhancing connections and international collaboration in addressing this pertinent issue – she particularly emphasised the value of approaching the challenge of women’s poverty in Africa by fostering an Afropolitan community. Conference organiser, Prof Sandra Fredman from the University of Oxford stressed the need to consider women’s poverty as an issue of law, not merely one of altruistic ambition or of charity, and for law to be ‘engendered’ in order to adequately address the challenge. The Rt Hon Professor Sam Rugege, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Rwanda welcomed all of the conference delegates to Rwanda and introduced the First Lady of Rwanda, Her Excellency, Mrs Jeannette Kagame. He paid particular tribute to her sustained commitment to women’s empowerment though her foundation, the Imbuto Foundation.
The conference was officially opened by the First Lady of Rwanda, Her Excellency, Mrs Jeannette Kagame. She spoke of the impressive gains that have been made for and by women and girls in Rwanda in the last two decades. However, she reminded us that while much has been achieved, we must continue to fight for women and girls and remain mindful that the journey ahead is long. The First Lady concluded her remarks with a powerful statement on the central role that women have in nation building – but this role requires both women to consciously choose to be active participants in this project, and for governments to play a central role in facilitating the continued advancement of women and girls.
Panel 1: Women and Poverty: A Human Rights Perspective
Prof Sandra Fredman was the first speaker, with a paper titled ‘Engendering Human Rights’ (slides available here). This paper took a closer look at what is actually means to ‘engender’ human rights. Because of the complex and interlocking factors that accumulate to lock women into poverty, measures to redress this must be considered in light of a multi-factored framework to assess whether they can provide real and substantive equality to women. Commissioner Winfred Osimbo Lichuma, Chairperson of the National Gender and Equality Commission in Kenya, provided an insightful account of the role that national human rights mechanisms, such as Commissions, can serve to compliment judicial protection of human rights in order to hold governments to account for their human rights obligations. Finally, Prof Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, joining the conference via video from Belgium, drew on recent findings to demonstrate how strengthening women’s rights is the single most effective tool in overall poverty reduction. A video of Prof de Schutter’s presentation is available here.
Panel 2: A Judicial Conversation – Achieving Gender Equality: The Respective Roles of Courts and Policy
Chief Justice of the Rwandan’s Supreme Court, the Hon Prof Rugege and Justice Kate O’Regan, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa engaged in a judicial conversation on the role of courts in achieving gender equality. The Chief Justice started by providing an overview of the Rwandan Constitution, adopted in 2003. He noted that the affirmative action clause in the Rwandan Constitution has led to women’s representation in Parliament reaching 64.1% – the highest in the world – and women make up 41% of the Rwandan Supreme Court and 45 % of lower Rwandan courts. He mentioned the progress that has been witnessed in this courts over the past decades. Justice O’Regan referred to the important role of the principle of non-sexism in the South African Constitution and the equality guarantee. She cautioned, however, against the Court usurping the role of the legislature and ‘draining’ too much of politics away from the government.
Panel 3: Women, Poverty and Land
Patricia Nyaund from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights spoke on actualising the legal recognition of women’s rights to own and control land in Kenya. She explained the difficult challenges that surround this issue in the Kenyan context. While the Kenyan Constitutional human rights guarantees in principle ‘trump’ Customary Law, the reality is that implementation of these guarantees is often illusive. She posed the extremely important question: once you have human rights guarantees in writing, how do you make sure than they actually transform the lived reality of women? She noted that in the Kenyan context, the legislative process has not yet been able to rise above political issues and therefore the Kenyan judiciary has proved itself to be an important in increasing the democratic space.
Panel 4: Gender, Poverty and Migration
Dr Stephanie Millan from the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense spoke on the international and regional protections available for the protection of internally displaced (IDP) women and girls. She noted that 70% of all IDP’s are women and children, and that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and impacts of natural disasters. She highlighted how they face heightened disadvantage in relation to securing finance, housing and healthcare and how the Kampala Convention was established to oversee the protection of the rights of IDP’s in Africa. Dr Usta Kayitesi from the University of Rwanda closed the session with a moving account of the legacy of the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. She highlighted the explicit genocide policies that served, amongst other things, to economically repress Tutsi women. She noted that post 1994 the women of Rwanda have had no option but to become actively involved in re-constricting the once broken country, and that Rwandan women in particular have learnt from the past to re-build a new Rwanda.
Read the account of day two and three here!