Worldwide, women continue to be marginalized in their political, economic and social life.  Yet development experts say that given the right support, they contribute as much as men. 

Feminists say Rwanda has proven that women can contribute to development if they are properly supported and empowered.  Last October, Rwanda swore in a parliament in which 49 percent of the legislators are women. The global average is just 15 per cent.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is calling on its members to use affirmative action measures to increase women's participation in the public and private sectors.

Agnes Kalibata is Rwanda's minister of state in charge of agriculture. She says women need education and improved legal rights if they are to improve their economic and political status in society, "[Women will perform as well as men if they are] given the right education, incentives, access to financing, property and land. I went to a university where the motto of the hall I was staying in was "Educate a woman: a nation educated. Train a woman: a nation trained." So empowering women is empowering a nation. "

In many African countries, most women live in rural areas, and many do not have the right to own their own land.  Kalibata says they should be given that right and also have access to training in agriculture.

"There are a number of laws in the African context that are not necessarily favorable for women. We hope that this (Rwanda's current parliament) will look at some of those and [pass] laws and policies that will favor women. Women have been marginalized on financing because of a lack of access to land, [so we will address] issues that will make it more favorable for women to access finance, to have property, to be independent," she says.

She says the Rwandan parliament -- like many others in Africa ? is drafting laws to improve the status of women. For example, it's formulating a law to guarantee equal access to property.

US president Barrack Obama has emphasized the importance of women in his own development. Many times he has noted the importance of women in his family, including his mother and grandmother who raised him, as well as his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha.

Agnes Kalibata views the new US president as a gender-aware leade