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Rwandan girls must assert themselves and discover their sense of self-worth. While Rwanda will do its best to level the playing field between girls and their brothers and provide opportunities for girls, it is up to girls themselves to claim their birthright. This message was delivered to girls by Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, at a function to mark the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October.

Opportunities that have been laid down for Rwandan girls include schools, programmes and scholarships. “It is now up to you to step up, claim what you have always had the right to have, join the boys and show that you are also capable,” she said. “We are behind you all the way, so seize every chance and do so with confidence!”

About 300 people attended the day’s celebrations, which were co-chaired by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, Girl Hub Rwanda, the National Commission for Children (NCC) under the Office of the Prime Minister, Imbuto Foundation and various partners including the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) , other UN organizations, international and local non-government organizations, and civil society.

The First Lady is the President of Imbuto Foundation, which is in a joint intervention with One UN. The project provides comprehensive to support young people, has pooled funding and is managed by the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Youth Programme. The three components of the project are a youth empowerment and mentorship programme, an education component and family package, and HIV. Both young girls and boys are supported but a specific programme encourages young girls to become educated, to practise safe sex and to fulfil their potential.

Preparing women of integrity 

Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, at the inaugural celebrations.

“Today we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, a day that the whole world has dedicated to you,” the First Lady addressed the girls. “It’s a day that will promote your rights as girls, highlight gender inequalities that  remain between you and your brothers and look for ways to correct any discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe. We honour our young girls and prepare you to become women of integrity in your own right.

“It takes more than a good education and the right opportunities to become a woman of strength. I urge you to cultivate your character by asserting yourselves, by recognising the talents and importance of others but most importantly, by discovering your self-worth – the Rwandan Agaciro.” [Agaciro  loosly means ‘dignity’. The Agaciro Development Fund is a solidarity fund that enables Rwandans to fast-track the development of their nation and reduce dependency on foreign finances.]

“Learn to love yourself and build yourself, both from self-evaluation and from accepting constructive criticism from others,” she continued. “Maintain your core values of honesty, integrity and loyalty, in order to stay true to yourselves and lead others. As they say, great leaders are those who lead by example. So start now. Wisdom will come with age, but you can start to acquire it through open-mindedness and self-discipline.

“Young girls, our futures are defined by our choices we make along the way! Believe in yourself and in your dreams, always have hope and your dreams will most certainly come true. Most importantly, there is no doubt whatsoever that you are all valuable, so never ever settle
for less than what you know you are worth,” Mrs Kagame said.

Inspirational stories of girls

The celebrations included Girl Hub Rwanda sharing some success stories from young girls, such as the 19-year-old woman who built her grandmother a house with only her two hands, and a 22-year-old woman who started a kitenge-denim handbag company and a foundation that supports 10 orphans. They also told of the parents of a 19-year-old woman who sold a cow to buy her a guitar and as a dedicated student, she now uses her music and story to inspire other girls to fulfill their own potential.

The Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Inyumba Aloise, said that across the country, Rwandan girls were building the foundation of a prosperous future – for themselves, their families, and their communities. “All Rwandan girls have the potential. You just have to find it,” she said.

You think you know me

Rwanda's First Lady, Jeannette Kagame (centre), at the inspirational event.

On this special day, the world was being challenged by girls to question what people think they know about adolescent girls. “As extraordinary agents of change, these girls are asking: Do you think you know me? Our goal is to listen and learn. And to celebrate International Day of the Girl Child by challenging people worldwide to make the girl effect happen.”

The First Lady’s speech was followed by a debate on the theme, ‘You think you know me: The International Day of the Girl in Rwanda is about role models. It’s about unlocking girls’ potential – potential you may not see at first glance.’ This involved the country’s main organizations working with or for girls, from the UN Family to local and international NGOs, each of which brought along a teenaged girl who they saw as having immense potential.

The girls and ‘elders’ held a debate on what the phrase ‘You think you know me’ means? The girls discussed what they believed they could achieve, and what policy-makers, advocates, activists and civil society did not know about Rwanda’s teenaged girls. The elders, in turn, inspired the girls with details of various lessons learned and informed the country why girls must be invested in.

Inspiring change

The event was an opportunity for Rwanda’s top ‘doers’ and the future generation of women leaders to understand why investing in Rwanda’s girls today is so important. It gave those Rwandan girls selected to attend an opportunity to be inspired and become enabled as potential leaders, and to spread the messages among their peers. It also used key media, including live twitter coverage by AfriYAN Rwanda, to spread the message about the necessity of unlocking Rwandan girls’ potential.