Nobel Peace Prize: Was it really about women empowerment?

I might sound odd but certainly sane to ask why none of our sisters, mothers or daughters has raised a finger or initiated debate over last week's Noble Peace Prize.Honestly, when the newscasts started streaming in about this year's winners, my conscience pointed to something gone amiss in the selection process.

I might sound odd but certainly sane to ask why none of our sisters, mothers or daughters has raised a finger or initiated debate over last week's Noble Peace Prize.

Honestly, when the newscasts started streaming in about this year's winners, my conscience pointed to something gone amiss in the selection process.

Do not read me wrong. This is not to say that the winners President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Yemen's Tawakkul Karman did not merit the prestigious award.

They have all been women of honour in their own capacities and situations and have greatly contributed to the promotion of women's rights.

The Norwegian committee said it had honoured the three women "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

The Nobel Peace Prize has courted a fair share of controversies in the past with the choice of recipients, the most recent being that of US President Barrack Obama.

And going by this year’s area of award, I am convinced that if indeed empowerment of women was the overriding goal, then rather than seek individual acts, the panel ought to have dwelt more on certain principles or good practices, across the world that guarantee a future devoid of gender imbalance.

I will speak for Rwanda. The successful story of women empowerment in this country has become a common discourse across the globe. Any conference, publication or discussion on gender issues does not miss the Rwandan story especially on how gender issues have been mainstreamed in all spheres of life.

Maybe to fully appreciate this, we need to go back to history and make some comparison.

Before the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, much of the existing literature on gender issues points to the patriarchal structure of the Rwandan society that denied women access to opportunities and discriminated them in almost all aspects of life. 

The Rwandan woman was restricted to her home with hardly any presence in the formal structures of education, politics, employment and education.

The 1995 report by United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women says that the traditional and legal constraints placed on Rwandan women by society were compounded by a lack of knowledge on the part of women about their rights and a lack of power to enforce them.

Hence, by early 1990’s women participation in parliament never went beyond 17 percent. Within the executive there were no women appointees until 1990, when women constituted a mere 5.26 percent.

Although women constituted over half the economically active population in the years leading up to the genocide, they rarely benefited from their labour because of discriminatory laws which denied them land ownership and informal discrimination which limited their ability to obtain credit.

When RPF took power, the situation changed. The new leadership reversed the imbalance (a human right) and determined that women must be central to the process of governing, reconciling, and rebuilding the country.

The most viable option was to first carve it within the supreme law, hence the May 2003 constitution that guarantees women at least 30 percent of all positions of governance.

This quota has been met and surpassed, as women now hold nearly 56.3 percent of Parliamentary seats, a greater proportion than in any other parliament worldwide.

Today, within the judiciary, female judges at the Supreme Court account for 43 percent and those at the primary courts are 42.2 percent.

The executive has equally scored well with female cabinet ministers standing at 33 percent as of July this year, while 50 percent of current Permanent secretaries are all women.

In fact, in some situations, the figures show a clear dominance of women. Take an example of district vice-mayors in charge of Social Affairs where 83.3 percent are all females. 

Therefore, these dramatic gains for women are result of specific mechanisms used to increase women’s political participation, among them a constitutional guarantee, a quota system and innovative electoral structures.

Now, if indeed this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was, in the Chairman’s words, about women “obtaining the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” and a recognition for ‘safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work,’ what story outsmarts Rwanda’s course?

Acknowledging the political will to check this historical imbalance and recognising the existing legal instruments that guarantee a sustainable future where women have a greater say in decision making is what the world ought to emulate and possibly recognise.  

Am not saying that Rwanda is craving for this award; No! All I’m saying is that sustainable gender equality must hinge on good political will backed by strong legal provisions (that are respected) and not necessarily one-off heroic stories that easily fade the next day.

Personally, this is what should be recognised and emulated, if our mothers across the world are indeed to be liberated or given a greater say in decision making.

On twitter @aasiimwe
akaeus@yahoo.com

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper


You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    

 

Follow The New Times on Google News