The National Electoral Commission (NEC) and various gender organisations in the country have encouraged women to run for decision making positions.
This was said during a one day meeting to discuss gender and elections last week at Lemigo hotel where the Electoral Commission observed that women still fear to compete for decision making positions and when they do, most of them run for social affairs and secretariat offices.
Culture and low self-esteem were cited as the biggest factors that are still holding women back.
Nadine Rugwe, a Gender Expert working with UNDP, noted that Rwanda has signed and ratified a lot of conventions and protocols regarding equal rights between women and men, in addition to the Rwandan constitution and other laws and that even though the legal tools are enough, deliberate action ought to be implemented.
She cited examples such as Rwanda having signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Article 7 of the convention says that parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and in particular, shall ensure that women are on equal terms with men, the right to vote in all elections and public referendum and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies.
In the regional context, The African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002) state that every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government of his or her country, either directly or through freely elected representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law.
Also, the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda commits the state to ensure equal right between Rwandans and between men and women without prejudice to the principles of gender equality and complementary in national development.
She added that furthermore, the organic law No. 10/2013 governing political organizations and politicians under article 3 guarantees equal opportunity for women and men into elective mandate and government duties.
“The legal and policy framework is essential but not enough. Deliberate action to implement it is needed,” she said.
Effects of culture and society
Statistics from National Electoral Commission show that in the 30 districts women occupy 22 social affairs positions while men occupy seven. Uwera revealed that the numbers turn around when it comes to economic affairs positions in the districts, where 23 are men and only 5 are women, while only 5 mayors are women against 25 men.
Rose Rwabuhihi, the Chief Gender Monitor at Gender Monitoring Office revealed that at law level there is no gender discrimination but it comes on the implementation level.
“The gender discrimination in elections resides in our minds, in the way we do things. Across the country, girls are hindered by their families, parents and communities from running for elections. One day I saw a girl who wanted to be elected at village level but people laughed at her whispering that she should be ashamed of what she was doing,” he said.
Professor Kalisa Mbanda the Chairman of NEC said Rwanda has a lot of particularities when it comes to gender equality and elections, but more improvements still have to be made.
“How is it done? Are we applying the laws and regulations effectively? How is the whole process conducted, submitting candidatures and doing electoral campaigns done,” he asked.
“Besides, statistics sometimes hide things. For instance, they can show that women and men are equal while they are secretaries and in charge of social affairs, and other positions are kept for men. This is what we have to change whether in preparation period or on on voting day. Every person, whether man or woman can run for any position,” he added.
Anita Mutesi, the head of Rwanda Women Parliamentarian Forum said the fact that women are above 60% in the parliament should serve as an example that Rwandan women are capable of serving any leadership position.
“Every Rwandan who has a confidence has the right to run for elections on various levels and positions. It only requires the will and the capacity to serve the nation,” she said.
Rwabuhihi added that the sustainable solution is to change the mindset of the Rwandan society and to help women have the self-esteem to be able to compete for all electoral positions.
The 2003 Rwandan constitution provides for a minimum 30 per cent quota for women in all decision-making organs, covering the Parliament and senate, political parties, and other government bodies.