With elections over, it’s time to walk the talk

This week presented mixed fortunes for women politicians in two different countries on two different continents.
Paul Ntambara
Paul Ntambara

This week presented mixed fortunes for women politicians in two different countries on two different continents.

In Australia, new Prime Minister Tony Abbot named an almost male cabinet with only Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister being the sole female member.

The resulting name calling has not been kind to the Liberal Party leader. He has been labelled ‘sexiest’ and ‘misogynist’.

Yet it was all celebration on another side of the world.

In Rwanda, the September 16 parliamentary elections saw the country cement its place as the only country with a female dominated parliament in the world, a feat it first achieved in the 2008 polls when women took up 56 per cent representation in the Chamber of Deputies.

The 2013 poll results show a significant jump in the number of women legislators. Women will occupy 51 of the 80 seats in the Lower House, translating into a 64 per cent representation.

One recurrent question that I have been asked by researchers and foreign journalists has revolved around Rwandan women. I have been asked why women have been given a prominent role the post-genocide Rwanda.

One plausible answer lies in their numbers and the responsibilities women have had to shoulder after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In the aftermath of the Genocide, about 70 per cent of the active population was female.

With many men killed, exiled or imprisoned, women found themselves in unfamiliar roles of fending for their families. The masterstroke by government was in empowering these women economically and politically to enable them contribute to the country’s reconstruction process.

This is the genesis of Rwandan women’s greater role in politics, business and across other sectors.

There is no doubt that having a female-dominated parliament in the world has informed this obsession for information on the role of women in the country’s rebuilding process.

To explain the big representation in parliament, many have often pointed to the constitutionally mandated quota system which reserves 30 per cent of parliamentary seats for women. The fact that representation has exceeded this quota is an indicator that this is only part of the explanation.

The unwavering political will to put women on the political landscape has also been singled out as key to the huge representation of women in parliament.

During the just concluded parliamentary elections held under the proportional representation system, women featured prominently on the lists of the different party lists.

And this support is not just limited to politics. The RPF-led government has been at the forefront in ensuring that women have a greater role to play in the country’s development agenda.

Women now hold key positions in government, the private sector, civil society, academia, among other areas.

They say that numbers are the atom of politics, nothing is possible without them. The key question being asked is how our women will use their numbers to shape the national agenda.

Will our women in parliament use their numbers to ensure a more accountable government? Are we about to see a parliament that is more responsive to the plight of women?

Much as people are trying to make sense of the numbers, it is the performance of this third parliament that will provide answers to these lingering questions.

Through this election, women in this country have been given an opportunity to take the gains that they have registered over the last 19 years to another level. This is an opportunity that they can’t afford to throw away.

The RPF-Inkotanyi, which stood alongside four other political parties, won the election overwhelmingly with 76.2 per cent, according to results released by the National Electoral Commission.

The resounding election victory means that coalition partners will share out 41 of the 53 seats competed for through universal adult suffrage.

Yet the RPF-Inkotanyi victory was not only registered on home ground but also in the Diaspora. Results show that the party garnered an overwhelming 97 per cent of the votes from this constituency.

The victory is a vote of confidence in the party to continue the development path it has spearheaded over the last 19 years. The next five years are crucial for the country.

Recently, government launched second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2) that targets to transform Rwanda into a middle income country.

Government hopes to achieve this through accelerated growth averaging 11.5 per cent in the next five years and reduce poverty from 44.9 per cent to 30 per cent. Parliament’s role will be crucial in achieving this feat.


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