Women stand tall in independent Rwanda

There will be speeches, celebrations and fireworks. But these celebrations will be taking place on the other side of the world from the United States, because, on Friday, the central African country of Rwanda will mark its own Liberation Day.

It is 20 years since the end of the genocide that saw the deaths of more than 800 000 people. Since 1994, Rwanda has worked hard to create a peaceful state and among those enjoying the fireworks will be female parliamentarians from around the world, who are meeting in Rwanda this week to discuss how to get more women into every country’s Parliament.

For this is Rwanda’s big success story. It has the distinction of being the only country in the world with more female MPs than male ones, a statistic that has attracted international attention, not least from the Zurich-based Women in Parliaments organisation, set up last year, which this week is holding its summer summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Not surprisingly, many of those attending the conference are keen to find out how Rwanda has managed to reach the figure of 64% women in its Parliament, which is unheard of everywhere else.

Setting the standard
Worldwide, women still represent less than a quarter (21.9%) of all elected parliamentary seats but the post-genocide period in which 70% of the country’s remaining population was female and the introduction of quotas requiring 30% of political and government candidates to be women have brought about real change in national and local politics and in public positions.

Half the country’s 14 Supreme Court justices are women, for instance. Boys and girls now attend compulsory primary and secondary school in equal numbers, and new laws enable women to own and inherit property.

But this is not just about numbers. The rebuilding of Rwanda’s public bodies was driven by a number of senior women determined that women’s gains in senior positions would not be lost as the gender balance gradually began to adjust. They include Donatille Mukabalisa, the speaker of the Rwandan chamber of deputies, who has been pushing reform for the past two decades.

Mukabalisa, whose keynote speech opened the conference, has said that, although the quota system clearly helped to speed up women’s participation in politics, women appointed and elected to a whole range of public positions have been so successful in making a positive difference that the country may reach a point where quotas are unnecessary. – Guardian News & Media 2014

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