Women rise to power in Rwanda

Women are playing a crucial role in post-genocide Rwandan politics with the help of a seat reservation system that has made the country one of the few with equal representation of the sexes.

Following Monday’s voting in parliamentary elections, Tuesday saw the start of the process to elect 24 women to reserved seats.

This hybrid system, combined with the fact that women now outnumber men, has led to an almost 50-50 representation in Parliament. In the outgoing House, 48% of the members are women.

The country was left with an imbalance following the 1994 genocide of minority Tutsis by majority Hutus in which, according to the United Nations, 800 000 died and many others fled.

The Rwandan electoral commission says 54,9% of the 4,7-million registered voters are now women.

On Tuesday morning, more than 100 women from the Nyarugenge district in the heart of Kigali gathered to elect their women representatives.

The process, along with the selection of three other special-interest representatives, continues until Thursday, and follows the voting on Monday in which President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front won 42 of the 53 seats contested in direct voting.

Eugenie Musanabaganwa, a nurse in her 30s, said the high number of women in Parliament could only help the country ”take the right decisions”.

”Very often, it was the woman who pushed her husband to confess to what he did during the genocide,” she said.

None of the reserved-seat women candidates is permitted to declare a political affiliation, and women voters are allowed to back two each.

”We want our representatives to promote education and health, and to fight against discrimination against women. But when we vote, we are not interested in political parties,” said Brigitte, a mother of five and a professor of chemistry at the University of Kigali.

Bellancilla Nyonawankusi, a Kigali official responsible for ensuring the smooth running of the voting, said women lawmakers carry a double burden.

”The role of the elected females is double: they must on the one hand concern themselves with the implementation of government decisions, and on the other be a voice for the grassroots,” she said.

”All Rwandans have a role to play in the reconciliation, but women can do it better than men. They are the ones who were the first to be affected by the genocide and they are the ones who are bringing up the children,” she added.

But despite the strength of women’s representation in Parliament, the struggle for equality is still not over, particularly in rural areas.

Women are not yet playing a full role in Rwandan society, one women said as she prepared to vote on Tuesday. ”For example,” she said, ”there are still not very many who set up a business.”

Nor is the genocide forgotten, she said. ”But you cannot think of it all the time. We must try to develop,” she added, before returning to her voting booth. — Sapa-AFP

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