At least 3,718,502 women are expected to vote in the forthcoming presidential polls due on August 4. This number will account for 54% of the 6,888,592 people registered to vote. If we are to go by this voter demographics, one would safely say that the women’s vote will significantly determine who becomes the next President of Rwanda come August 4th.
There are three candidates in the race including RPF-Inkotanyi Presidential candidate Paul Kagame, Independent candidate Philipe Mpayimana and Frank Habineza of the Green Party. The three candidates have 15 days to wrap up their campaigns, but what will it take for any of the three candidates to be assured of the women’s vote.
Observers interviewed cited women empowerment and poverty eradication top on the agenda of issues that will inform how women will vote presidential elections.
Redempter Batete, a gender activist says that poverty eradication, women economic empowerment, promotion of women in leadership, are issues that women will look out for when deciding on who to vote. A candidate with a manifesto that clearly addresses these issues will take the women’s vote. But Batete is quick to add that Rwanda has already done so much in terms of women empowerment although more is yet to be achieved.
Sharon Mbabazi, a university student, echoes a similar view. She says that a candidate who will be able to articulate how poverty will be dealt with especially among the youth will stand a better chance to sweep the women’s vote.
When you eradicate poverty, other issues are being taken care of in the process, she says.
“When you eliminate poverty, you uplift the youth, women inclusive. So in my opinion, eradication of poverty should be the focus because society in general benefits from it,” Mbabazi explains.
To achieve this, Mbabazi suggests that the youth should be given opportunities, more so platforms to express themselves and develop their talents.
“The presence of those platforms is a good way of empowering them with different skills that will help in poverty eradication,” she says.
Empowerment is still key
For Nancy Sibo, an assistant lecturer at IPRC South, women will vote for a candidate who has already demonstrated capacity in terms of empowerment of women.
“The RPF-Inkotanyi candidate has been doing this not only in terms of economic empowerment but also in promotion of hands-on skills; this has been an important factor in strengthening the women empowerment drive,” she says.
Sibo, however, points out that more can be done to address certain prevailing issues, for example, women not being aware of certain opportunities availed to them for development. She advises that the next president should address the issue.
“One of the challenges is awareness about the prevailing opportunities, more so for rural women. Focusing on this will favour development of all women because you find that opportunities are there but the beneficiaries are not aware,” she says.
Bosco Murangira, the director in charge of women empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, also agrees that the candidate that will win, of course, will have shown clear interventions that tackle women’s socio-economic empowerment.
This is based on the fact that women not only make the majority of voters, but also pose a strong mobilisation tool, he argues.
Murangira notes that basing on what has happened in the past seven years; it’s evident that a lot of policies, programmes and interventions that are gender sensitive are in place and this has positively had an impact not only on women and girls, but families at large.
Some of these policies include the land law that guarantees equal access and ownership of land between men and women, the labour law that guarantees equal pay and prohibits harassment at work place. Others are the financial inclusion of women (increased from 36.1 per cent in 2012 to 63 per cent in 2016); girls’ education policy, TVET policy, women and youth access to finance strategy, among others.
“Currently, if you hear testimonies of the extension of electricity and water to women-headed households and the impact it has made, for instance, in reducing the burden of unpaid care work, you would know that women empowerment is key,” Murangira says.
He adds that women participation in income generating activities is evident that women have gained hope and this is reflected in the reduction of poverty.
“These are the few selected examples that I am giving to show that women, with no doubt, in the coming elections, will be in favour of sustaining all the success and achievements registered and therefore, they will vote wisely for the person who made this happen,” Murangira says.
However, going forward, Murangira points out that there are still issues that the candidate who will win needs to address, some originating from the country’s history.
“Because of the culture and the factor of illiteracy, some women have limited skills which lead to low capacity in terms of productivity and this makes it hard to meet the labour market demands.”
A candidate who will demonstrate ability to provide early child hood development centres in all villages such that children can gain from positive parenting as parents also have time to participate in income generating activities, will also win the women’s vote, according to Murangira.
“To conclude, from the policy and technical perspective, I can say that women are happy and eagerly waiting for Election Day to make the right choice.”
Jonathan Munyanziza, the acting executive secretary at Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), agrees that women empowerment will be the secret code to winning the women’s vote. However, he calls upon presidential candidates to include men in the women empowerment plans.
“Whether the empowerment is done in terms of social, economic or political aspects, they shouldn’t leave men behind, men’s involvement is vital,” he says.
He argues that empowering women without showing men the benefits of this can be an obstacle, and the intended outcome of gender equality cannot be sustainable.
“Whoever wins should put this into consideration, empowerment of men and the youth, helping them understand the essence of this for both sides is essential,” Munyanziza says.
Munyanziza says that carrying out sensitisation with intentions of changing men’s mindset in regards to certain beliefs on masculinity can be of great help since this is where the main issue is. Men should be partners in women empowerment.
Alice Cyusa, an accountant by profession says during campaigns, the candidates could focus on encouraging more Rwandan women to participate actively in the country’s development, especially on issues like fighting poverty, malnutrition, and girls’ education, among others.
Motivating and empowering women to take risks and join the business world is the real deal, she says. “I would also like to see more women CEOs or women in charge of our big government institutions.
“First, as a woman, I am very thankful for my country’s achievements in gender equality and women empowerment, but there is still a lot to do,” Cyusa says.
I would like to see our presidential candidates focus on the role of our female members of parliament. It would be great to see the 64 per cent women in parliament, taking the lead or supporting the implementation of IMIHIGO at the district or village levels. I just want our women to become more pro-active! That the 64 per cent is felt,” she suggests.
“President Kagame gave us back our dignity and this is a great opportunity for me and other women to work even harder so that we positively contribute to building of “The Rwanda We Want” for ourselves and for our children,” Cyusa adds.
With this, she encourages Rwandan women to use this opportunity given to all women to take the lead again for this coming mandate.
“We women are very excited and grateful for His Excellency’s acceptance to run again,” she says.