Earlier this month my colleague, Leah Quested, and I traveled to New York to connect with several grantee partners who were attending the 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68). We had the opportunity to meet with Resonate, TICAH, Akili Dada, ZanaAfrica, and Girl Rising — all organizations working in related ways to advance the health, rights, and voices of women and girls in East Africa and beyond. Over the course of two days, we attended several side events and panels, but perhaps more importantly, we connected with these leaders informally and learned more about their current priorities and their contributions to the larger ecosystem. During one such meeting, Claire Uwineza, CEO of Resonate shared some of her impressions from the CSW68 meetings from her perspective as a Rwandan leader who works to unlock the leadership potential of young women and girls. We are grateful that she agreed not only to share this perspective but also to offer some advice for funders and others working in this space. ~ Sheila Leddy, Program Partner

Growing up in Rwanda, a country renowned for its commitment to advancing gender equality, has deeply influenced my passion for empowering women and girls. With 61.3% representation of women in parliament and policies and structures that support the advancement of women, Rwanda’s government leads the way in providing huge support to women and girls. Yet, it was my resilient mother who instilled in me the courage to dream big and empowered me early on as a decision-maker. At Resonate, we focus on change driven from the grassroots that accompanies the work of Rwanda’s government. Our mission is to unlock the leadership potential of women and girls in East Africa by building their agency, confidence, and leadership skills, enabling them to be agents of change and leaders in creating the change they want to see in their lives and communities.

This year, I had the privilege of attending the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) for the first time as a delegate. Throughout the event, I engaged in various side events hosted by diverse organizations and attended official sessions of the United Nations, including the Opening at the General Assembly. It was fascinating to observe the gender dynamics at play– while most of the key speakers at the Opening were men, the majority of participants inside events were women. We need male allies and champions of gender equality, however, the contrast underscored that we still have a long way to go.

With time running out to achieve the SDGs, only 15.4% of indicators are on track to reach SDG5, “Gender Equality.” One in every ten women lives in extreme poverty. Without change, we can expect that over 340 million women and girls will still languish in extreme poverty by 2030, with 80% of the female population living on less than $2.15/day.

As I reflect on the dire need to ramp up progress expressed during the side events and the Opening Session, I think about the participants in Resonate’s short leadership workshops, who learn to shift their mindsets, turn skills into action, and fulfill their potential. One of our participants, Marie Louise, felt helpless after an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager. She couldn’t accept her new reality and feared she would always rely on others to take care of her and her child. The leadership workshop helped Marie Louise to recognize her agency, accept her reality and change her situation. She started her own small business of selling fruits at a local market in Kabuga and later used the money she saved to buy a sewing machine. Now, she is a successful tailor and is able to take care of her baby’s basic needs as well as her own without depending on the baby’s father. If we want women to be at the forefront of a movement to build prosperity, we must give them the tools to make their voices resonate.
Here are my key takeaways from CSW68, emphasizing the importance of:

  • Both public and private sectors investing in and financing programs that advance gender equality.
  • Strengthening the international financial structure to ensure a gender lens is included in budgeting processes and taxation policies.
  • Discussing care work and other limitations women face as they navigate professional and personal lives.
  • Ensuring women have access to resources, education, and technology to bridge the gender gap
  • Ensuring young people are contributors to policy development/reform to ensure a sustainable future.
  • Valuing the attendance and contribution of grassroots organizations at CSW since they are on the ground, know the reality, and should be aware of the conversation.

Underfunding in gender equality and women’s empowerment programs will reverse any progress we have achieved. To speed up progress, bilaterals and philanthropic funders need to:

  • Dedicate long-term, flexible, sufficient funding to accelerate the achievement of gender equality.
  • Trust that people close to the problem (women and girls) have solutions.
  • Be flexible in understanding that the indicators of success might be intangible, complex to measure, or take time to achieve, but the long-term impact is unquestionable.
  • Consider how they can open doors to funding for women’s empowerment movements.
  • Evaluate the pressure on women’s movement organizations to prove impact.
  • Understand the challenge of quantifying a sense of safety/ security, hope, resilience, and lack of stigma.
  • See that many women’s empowerment movements are underfunded because they cannot quantify their impact or struggle to access potential funders.

Attending CSW allowed me to connect with our current partners supporting our work, like the Imago Dei Fund, and meet new, potential funders, as well. My hope is that when we next convene for this critical issue, we can open our hearts and minds to build relationships and partnerships that result in actionable steps to advance women and girls. Investing in women and girls isn’t just an investment in their future—it’s an investment in a secure and prosperous future for all.

To learn more about Resonate, please visit their website: https://resonateworkshops.org/