Gender equality activists upbeat over next House

Female members of parliament during the past mandate. Women will take 61 per cent of seats in the next Lower House. Nadège Imbabazi.

Women rights activists have welcomed the fact that the country’s next Chamber of Deputies will still have more women than men, explaining that it will help the Lower House continue to enact laws that are gender sensitive and respond to society’s most important issues.

Women will take 61 per cent of seats in the next Lower House, going by the results from last week’s parliamentary elections.

On what gender equality activists expect from Rwanda’s women-dominated parliament.

Those The New Times spoke to said that a lot is expected in terms of enacting laws that will give equal opportunities to both men and women.

The executive secretary of Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe, an umbrella organisation for women NGOs in Rwanda, Emma-Marie Bugingo, said that a number of gender sensitive laws and policies were enacted by Rwanda’s women-dominated parliaments in the past and that the trend is likely to continue.

“We need to keep enacting gender sensitive laws and ensure that laws that have any gender gaps are revised,” she said in an interview.

She lauded the country’s previous parliaments that comprised a significant number of women for having enacted important laws that have given equal rights to men and women in many areas, including in land ownership, family and matrimony, prevention of gender-based violence, and maternity benefits among others.

“We have seen it in the past where many gender sensitive laws were enacted and we can only hope that more of that will be done in the future,” she said.

Chantal Umuhoza, a women rights activist who currently works with different organisations to advance women political participation in governance processes, said that the incoming women parliamentarians need to help address a number of issues.

Umuhoza, who is also the founder of a space for young feminists called Spectra, which mobilises young Rwandan feminists to voice out their issues, said that new women MPs are expected to represent well citizens’ voices, especially those of women.

She said that the female MPs will specifically have to tackle issues that are persistently affecting women and girls through enacting laws but also challenging government ministries and other implementing agencies to plan and budget for the identified issues.

Those persistent issues, she said, include high girls’ drop-out rate from school due to teenage pregnancies, lack of inclusion of comprehensive gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response activities in the planning and budgeting of ministries and districts as well as the burden of unpaid care work done by women and girls.

She also urged the incoming MPs to push for the promotion of reproductive rights of women and girls by decriminalising abortion in totality and ensuring access to all contraceptives, including emergency contraception.

Umuhoza also said that women’s limited access to financial and productive assets due to high interest rates, high valued collateral and limited control of property due to power inequalities between men and women, should be addressed.

“New MPs should link more with citizens’ voices, especially women, by always going back to them and listening to their issues. New women MPs should not only enact laws but also demand accountability on implementation of the laws and analyse to what extent laws lead to desired impact,” she said.

As for the chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, Jean-Léonard Sekanyange, he expects women in the country’s next parliament to keep playing a role in enacting laws that address real life challenges for families and Rwandan society at large.

“Looking at the achievements of the out-going parliament which was also women-dominated, we are happy with what women have done and hope that the incoming women MPs will also achieve a lot because women are very wise people when it comes to making decisions,” he said.

He explained that a women-dominated parliament is likely to enact laws that well respond to family and society challenges because women are generally more concerned with family welfare.

“Women are very good at looking after families and the fact that they are more in our parliament means that they will vote good laws that respond to the people’s challenges right from the grassroots level,” he said.

Rwanda has, for over a decade, been topping the global list of countries with the most female  parliamentarians.