African women legislators tipped on empowerment

There is a lot to learn from Rwanda when it comes to women empowerment and political participation, a top UN official told visiting parliamentarians yesterday.
Women parliamentarians from Great Lakes and Sahel regions at Parliament Buildings in Kigali yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)
Women parliamentarians from Great Lakes and Sahel regions at Parliament Buildings in Kigali yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

There is a lot to learn from Rwanda when it comes to women empowerment and political participation, a top UN official told visiting parliamentarians yesterday.

Diana Ofwona, the acting UN resident coordinator, who is also the UN Women Representative in the country, addressed about 50 women legislators from Africa’s Great Lakes and Sahel regions, who are on a study tour in the country.

For five days since yesterday, the parliamentarians will learn about Rwanda’s success in women political empowerment as Rwanda is ranked the country with the highest number of women in Parliament in the world.

The women parliamentarians are from Burundi, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Republic of Central Africa, Mali, Madagascar, Niger and Eritrea.

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Dr Matlosa (L) is shown around Parliament Buildings by Speaker Mukabalisa yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

It’s a study trip initiated by the African Union in partnership with the regional office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and coordinated by the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians (FFRP) on behalf of the Parliament of Rwanda.

“Learning from Rwanda is indeed learning by example,” Ofwona told the legislators at the launch of their field trip in Parliament yesterday.

Rwanda has made important steps in promoting gender equality, which is the third of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations.

Among other aspects, the promotion of gender equality in the country has helped more Rwandan women access education, financial services, and placed them in many decision-making positions.

With 64 per cent of seats in its Lower Chamber of Parliament and 38 per cent in the Senate occupied by women, Rwanda holds a world record of women representation in the legislature and remains a beacon for promoters of gender balance in the world.

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Women parliamentarians chatting as they go for a break at Parliament  yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

Cultural stereotype

The Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Donatile Mukabalisa, told delegates at the legislators’ field trip that empowering women requires having tools to challenge cultural stereotypes that lead to gender discrimination and marginalisation.

“The tool of the highest legal order is to enshrine gender equality and women empowerment directly in the legal instruments of a country and monitor their implementation,” Mukabalisa said.

The Constitution puts quotas for women representation in Parliament and in other decision-making institutions, explicitly saying that women will occupy not less than 30 per cent of positions.

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Women parliamentarians in a session at Parliament yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

The law exclusively reserves 24 seats for women representatives in the Lower Chamber of Parliament, making it easier for women to find their place in the House.

The Director for Political Affairs at the African Union Commission, Dr Khabele Matlosa, told the legislators on the field trip in Kigali that putting women quotas for political seats remains critical for a society wide campaign to advance women’s agenda.

Visiting women legislators on the trip hope to learn as much as they can at sessions arranged for them at different gender promoting organs in the country such as the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the National Women Council, the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, the Business Development Fund and Women’s Guarantee Fund.

“No part of the population needs to be forgotten if development is to take off,” said MP Mariam Moussa, from Niger, where women occupy only 14 per cent in Parliament.

“We are always seen as a minority, it’s not good,” she added.

 

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Women parliamentarians pose in a group photo at Parliament  yesterday.(Timothy Kisambira)

MP Lea Koyassoum Doumta who is visiting from the Republic of Central Africa said she was interested in learning how Rwandan women have played their role in the reconciliation process after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

“Rwanda is an example for us because it has more women in Parliament,” she said.

Only 10 per cent of legislators in the Transitional Parliament of the Republic of Central Africa are women, Doumta said.

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