Political developments in Rwanda as she prepares for legislative elections to be held next September; could have an outcome with a profound impact on gender relations on the African continent, where women have lagged behind in political decision-making processes.
As a feminist advocating for women’s rights for the greater part of my adult life, I watch mesmerized as the Rwandan sisters and brothers sail through on the women’s agenda as if in this small East African country, ‘Eva was never molded from Adams rib’. Changing the whole patriarchal biblical verse used over time to justify women oppression.
The brothers and sisters stand shoulder to shoulder waiting for the whistle to blow before the great race to the ‘Inteko Nshingamategeko’, (Parliament), starts.
Once again, the East African country is set to make history in the women’s empowerment drive as she is set to increase the number of female legislators even higher in the next legislative assembly.
In fact, Rwanda’s Parliament will be the first female dominated one in the world; given that Rwanda currently has the world’s highest female legislative presentation beating well to do countries with huge investments in gender equality spanning over decades.
Demystifying the whole notion that poverty or underdevelopment equals women’s marginalisation and disempowerment. Both poor and rich countries can raise women’s status - only with the political will.
And so, if current indications are anything to go by in assessing the party lists compiled so far in preparation for the September polls - 55 percent female representation is my very modest prediction.
The ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and its coalition partners have endorsed 35 female candidates out of 80 to stand on the party list; outside those who will benefit from the constitutional provision of a 30 percent quota as spelt out in the Electoral Act, they will be proportionally represented as follows; “ two (2) in the City of Kigali; six (6) in the Southern Province; two (2) in the Northern Province; seven (7) in Western Province; seven (7) in the Eastern Province”.
A total of 24 out of 80 seats! It should be noted that the other contesting parties will also be fielding women on their lists. In this achievement, Rwanda would have been the first African country to meet the fifty percent quota as stipulated in the African Union’s Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Rwanda interestingly was again one of the first African countries to ratify the Charter whose article 9 states; “States’ Parties shall take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling national legislation and other measures.”
And so I resort to investigate the genetic make up of Rwandan men. What makes them different to my SADC or maybe Zimbabwean men?
Recently, in an interview for our yet to be re-launched The Women’s Times magazine, I asked Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba a very simple question,; “How are Rwandans doing it? How is it possible?”
I mean we had just gone through the whole list of the who is who of women holding positions not just warming seats; holding credible solid positions of power/responsibility; from the acting Police Commissioner, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Information, The Commissioner of the Rwanda Revenue Authority, to female army commanders and brigadiers.
“Grace, it’s smart politics if you have able people who can do it.Even if they are women, promote them. That is what our leaders do,” responded the Senator.
For her party which she served during the struggle for democracy as Commissioner for Finance at a young age, she explains that the roots of understanding women’s positioning can be traced to a political culture and tradition inherent in the whole RPF (male and female) leadership those days.
Political schools or education included understanding women’s oppression beyond just sexual oppression, but colonial and neo-colonial too, with the basis of that oppression in all spheres of female life being challenged.
Thus, today, the radicalization of Rwandan politics under the RPF leadership is a deep reflection of a culture that refuses female oppression.
And so today, Rwanda prepares once again to take the top prize in the promotion of the women’s cause at the highest level. Walking in the foot-steps of what one great leader Samora Machel once said; “The idea that we can wait until later to emancipate women is wrong, because it means leaving reactionary ideas to grow so that they are harder to fight later.”