Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lessons from The Parliament of Rwanda, A Genuine Model of Women Leadership.

“Gender equality in every sector is not a favor, it is your right. It is the way it should be. The right to equality is not something that can be given or taken. It begins with each of you believing in your equal ability to achieve,” Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.
The representation of women in the parliaments worldwide is low if compared to their portion of their respective populations. According to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, “Only 20.9 per cent of national parliamentarians were female as of 1 July 2013, a slow increase from 11.6 per cent in 1995”. Women are significantly lacking considerable participation in decision-making positions, an issue that takes its toll on the fulfillment of women’s ambitions and interests.
A publication by The Women & Politics Institute, Washington, D.C. entitled “Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics” highlighted the problem of the vast gap between women and men in occupying places in U.S. political institutions and addresses the possible causes of this glaring fact:

1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.
7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.
USA was shockingly ranked 80th among 188 countries in terms of percentage of women representation in National Parliaments according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) statistical archive published by December, 2013.
The situation in Rwanda is entirely different: Rwanda is the country of highest percentage of women representation in parliament where women hold 64 percent of seats in The Parliament. Rwanda is thus by far the world’s leader in women lawmakers. How women rose in the political ranks in Rwanda raised a lot of eyebrows and such phenomenon needed elucidation in the light of what Rwanda suffered in the last decade of the bygone century. The situation in Rwanda hit a rock-bottom in the wake of the futile genocide in 1994, where the war between the extreme Hutu and Tutsu had torn the nation apart. Roughly one-fifth of the Rwandan population was massacred, an HIV epidemic has hit a big chunk of the women and their offsprings secondary to “war rape” incidents, the economy was crippled and the development was dwarfed; however, The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) managed to bring peace to Rwanda and the constitution that was set in 2003 recommended that women to be granted 30 percent of posts in all “decision-making organs”. 
Elizabith Powley, in her work entitled “Case Study: Rwanda - Rwanda: Women Hold Up Half the Parliament” discussed the pivotal factors that affirmed women’s role in political practice. She attributed much of the success to the relentless work of non-governmental organizations and feminist movements, headed by Pro-Femmes Organization that influenced the inclusion of statements clarifying women’s roles in the nation’s constitution. The genocide itself impacted the demography of the Rwandan society as women who composed the majority of the population afterwards were forced to develop themselves and attain leadership characters to meet the needs of their hapless community. The RPF itself had much faith in the idea of empowerment of women and genuinely adopted an equal gender policy at all levels, even though the Kagame-led RPF regime is widely criticized as being not sufficiently ripe democratically. Connie Bwiza Sekemana, the RPF leader and the member of the Parliament said “The issue is not the sex. It is the issue of equal opportunity, of citizen’s rights, human rights, the fundamentals of any citizen. Who is who that brings what? It does not matter whether it is a woman or a man. It matters on performance and delivery”.
Challenges are yet to be overcome in the future. Women representation is still subpar at lower level of governance in Rwanda. According to the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Africa, “93,3% of all mayors are male, while 75% of the governors are men. Just 6,7% of the district executive secretaries are female. A mere 9,1% of the sector executive secretaries are women, as are 37,7% of the cell executive secretaries”. Some analysts believe that bragging the issue of women’s predominance in the parliament is just a way to blur the real situation in Rwanda and to conceal the biased policy of the Tutsu-based RPF. The gains for Rwandan women in inheritance, land rights and anti-violence approaches intercede for the sour allegations.
Irene Ndungu debated whether the feminist rise in The Parliament of Rwanda signifies a real gain; still she stated that “the role of women in general in Rwanda’s peace-building efforts cannot be gainsaid. The extent to which they have mobilized at all levels to bring about reconciliation, healing and recovery following the genocide is remarkable. Their active role in cultivating a peace agenda is especially commendable, with their country being among only a handful of African countries that have developed an action plan for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security”.
The remarkable women representation in Rwanda is a lesson to all countries who still doubt the competency of women and their capabilities in holding leadership positions. The idea of male predominance is written off in Rwanda, a country whose model encourages others to promote women appreciation and empowerment.
By Ahmed Magdi Youssef
UN Women, Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation, Women in parliaments.
Jennifer L. Lawless, Richard L. Fox. Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics. Washington, DC: Women & Politics Institute, January 2012
Women win 64% of seats in parliamentary elections, maintaining number one spot worldwide. The official Website of The Government of Rwanda.
Elizabeth Powley. Case Study: Rwanda - Rwanda: Women Hold Up Half the Parliament.
Roopa Gogineni. Rwandan Parliament's Female Majority Focuses on Equality. Voice of America (VOA), September 26, 2013.
Irene Ndungu. Does the dominance of women in Rwanda's parliament signify real change? ISS Today, 12 November 2013.
Inter-Parliamentay Union – archive of statistical data, situation as of 1st December 2013

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