Election Universe

Is Rwanda an atypical case for gender participation in Africa?

Is Rwanda an atypical case for gender participation in Africa?
October 22 2018, 14:10

Rwanda held elections last month to choose legislators for the 80-seat Chamber of Deputies, 24 of which were reserved for women, two for youth candidates and one for people with disabilities.

Independently of the results, the event saw two substantial victories for election integrity: heightening gender equality and a first-time democratic aperture for two opposition political parties entering parliament.

Women political participation in Africa

Gender equality, particularly in the African democracies has been an elusive subject. Women have proven time and again to make reliable leaders. However, tradition and dogmatism have been a significant obstacles in their quest for influential democratic positions.

Most African states have been known to apply suppressive techniques in their leadership styles, which in the past have denied women access to prominent positions.

However, Rwanda has set a precedent worth emulating in this regard. Following the genocide of 1994, the landlocked East African State has since taken the lead in including women in the country’s political system. They now represent 49% of their national parliament compared to a global average of 15.1% (showing the highest representation of women not just in Africa, but the entire world.)

A gender equality champion

Rwanda has pursued a robust political agenda where gender equality is dominant, and women are represented at all levels of governance. This effort has opened chances for many women to access political positions impossible to attain in the past.

Since assuming the country’s leadership, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party in conjunction with government representatives and the persistent lobbying of Rwandan women, have managed to establish constitutional female quotas and leverage women’s participation in politics.

According to “The impact of women’s political leadership on democracy and development,” although the condition of most women in Rwanda is still appalling due to entrenched patriarchal attitudes, the movement the government initiated is deemed as an eye-opener. It has helped challenging communities to adjust their attitude toward women as political leaders.

Transforming patterns in gender politics

Three things the Rwandan political institutions are working on, which have triggered hope for vulnerable women, include education, balancing gender representation at all levels of the administration, and supporting law and constitutional changes.

The emphasis of the government agencies on girl child education has played a significant role in changing erroneous public attitudes towards women’s roles (Commonwealth, S. E. C. R. E. T. A. R. I. A. T., 2018).

Similarly, a crucial step has been the creation of the ministry for women’s affairs, the organization of women’s councils at the levels of cell, sector, district, as well as the province, and finally establishing an electoral system that comprises gender quotas for Congress.

There has since been an assumption that the more women get represented in leadership positions, the more meaningful and genuine their participation becomes in moving toward democratic development. Rwanda has shown one way to start this transformation, but it has been -and it will probably continue being- a long bumpy journey.