Rwanda held landmark parliamentary elections on 15 September 2008. There were 80 seats up for grabs in the Chamber of Deputies, 53 directly elected and 27 indirectly elected. The election produced the world’s first national legislative chamber with a female majority in a modern democracy.
The previous election saw female candidates score 48.75%, a world record itself only improved in the 2008 elections with female candidates securing 45 seats or 56.25%, the first time females consisted the majority in parliament in the whole world.
The September elections had the European Union, the Commonwealth, the African Union, COMESA, and the East African Legislative Assembly send observer missions to oversee the voting.
In an election that passed as one of the most free and fair in Africa, the ruling party Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) assembled a coalition with six smaller parties emerged the majority winner, scooping 42 seats (78%).
Announcing the results on the 16th of September, Chrysologue Karangwa, the head of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said that the voting was free and fair just as noted by the many observer missions.
The indirect phase of voting for 27 seats began on 16 September and ended on 18 September. The seats up for grabs included 24 for women, while two were reserved for representatives of the youth and one for the representative of the disabled.
The newly elected deputies were sworn in on 6 October, and Rose Mukantabana was elected as President of the Chamber of Deputies, receiving 70 votes edging out Abbas Mukama.
Dennis Polisi was re-elected as First Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies, and Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, the Minister of Health prior to the elections was elected as its Second Vice-President.
The year 2008 in the Rwandan Parliament was no doubt a year of women. The election of Mukantabana as the speaker of the august house served as a turning point in the parliament recognised worldwide for promoting Gender equality worldwide while the presence of other big names like Speciosa Mukandutiye, the Chairperson of Women parliamentarians proves the case in point. Notable women performers also include Constance Mukayuhi Rwaka, the Chairperson of the Committee on Budget and National Property which has been behind tax reforms in order for Rwanda to harmonise with the rest of the East African Community.
Both the African Union and United Nations pointed out these developments unfolding in Rwanda as a measure of good things to come in efforts geared towards ensuring gender equity worldwide.
In 2007, President Paul Kagame was awarded by the Geneva-based African NGO with the African Gender award for Rwanda’s achievement in as far as women empowerment is concerned.
A visionary leadership has therefore greatly encouraged Rwandan women to step up and participate in their country’s development.
More women expressed interest in investment in 2008 than over the past two years.
Shema Ida Murangira, Research Business Analyst with the Rwanda Enterprise Investment Company (REIC) confirmed that more women sought financial and investment advice from the Institution, many of whom presented viable business proposals.
Describing the year as good with regards to investment growth, she added that although the sector was still heavily male dominated Women had shown remarkable change in their investment interests this year.
Since its inception two years ago, this year registered the highest number of women in business. This is no doubt a sign of even better things in 2009 and beyond.
UNICEF, working closely with UNGEI (United Nations Girls Education Initiative) partners compiled what it termed as the Best of 2008, in education and gender equality, a compilation of ten of the top news stories, quotes and podcasts, relating to education and gender equality from 2008.
One such story is that of two Ugandan teenage girls who with the help of Academy of educational development (AED) and the Ambassadors’ Girls’ Scholarship Programme, defied all the odds faced by their peers to fulfil their dream of completing high school.
This is against a backdrop of high drop out high school rates for girls in Sub Saharan where fewer than one in five girls in the entire region complete secondary school, and millions more worldwide never go beyond primary grades.
In Rwanda, we too have our success story with regards to girls and women in education.
In January this year, the Forum for African Women Educationalist (FAWE), Rwanda Chapter implemented a new five-year strategic plan. This was in line with the Institution’s efforts to continue promoting the education of girls and women.
Some of the activities within this plan include strengthening the capacity of Women Associations in universities and working with tertiary institutions; advocating for increased access for girls to technical education and strengthening girls’ empowerment programmes in secondary and upper primary level.
FAWE Rwanda also manages the Ambassador’s Girl’s Scholarship Programme that has to date enabled many Rwandan girls complete their secondary and primary education.
COMPILED BY TURI OMOLLO, IMMACULATE CHAKA, EDMUND KAGIRE