African business, politics and lifestyle
Women lead from the front in Rwanda’s parliament
After next year’s election in Rwanda, women hope they will take around two thirds of the seats in parliament.
It would be an ambitious dream for equality campaigners in many countries, but after the 1994 genocide, women made up 70 percent of Rwanda’s population.
Rwanda became the first country in the world with a female majority in parliament after last year’s election.
Solange Tuyisenge has a rural constituency and has been a legislator for about four years. She says even more can be done to give women even more political clout.
“We cannot say that we have empowered all women; we still have a long way to go,” she told Reuters Africa Journal.
“We still have girls and women who need representation, to be spoken for.”
She says she believes changing the mindsets of Rwandans is the key, so they “understand that the woman of the 40s is not the same as the current woman, a woman is not only to bear children or stay in the kitchen, there is development”.
Rwanda brought in constitutional reforms to boost the number of female parliamentarians, as well as supporting other projects to develop opportunities for women – such as encouraging them to take up farming.
“Well, personally, the initiative to empower women in Rwanda has really made it possible for me to develop,” Alphonsine Umwubahimana, whose husband was killed was killed in 1994, told Africa Journal.
She signed up for a farming programme, which gave her three dairy cows. She now has 15 and employs seven male labourers.
An estimated 800,000 minority ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda by militiamen and soldiers during just 100-days in 1994.
Activists from Burundi, where two decades of civil war killed 300,000 people before it ended in 2006, have been to Rwanda to try to learn from its experience.
After changing the constitution in 2005, the proportion of women in Burundi’s government rose from zero to 30 percent.
“Right now we are preparing ourselves for the next election in 2010, so that they can work some more on the constitution and increase the percentage of women from 30 percent to 50 percent in all sectors,” Burundian delegate Manairakiza Godelive said.
Male delegate Nayishake Eugene said: “We have seen the truth … even if we have not yet started the hard part, we now know that it is possible.”