President Paul Kagame yesterday exercised his prerogatives and drew a curtain on the parliament that has been in place for the past five years, as preparations for next month’s elections continue.
Ten years after the promulgation of the new Constitution that laid the foundation and Rwanda grabbed the headlines with the highest representation of women in the just-concluded parliament, at 56 percent, seems apt to draw a score card.
“Beyond the numbers”, what has been the impact? I will take the liberty to cast the net a little bit wider in this opinion, and look pre-2003.
High representation of women in national institutions is a good thing, as it puts issues that concern women in the national agenda.
Some of the significant laws that have been passed due to this are the 1999 law regarding matrimonial regimes, liberalities and successions.
The law accords women equal rights with men in marriage and inheritance. It protected the women and helped them inherit their husbands’ property after the genocide.
The law may not have been possible without the women raising their serious concerns and getting involved in its enactment.
It is, indeed, the realization of women’s leadership potential in their input in the 1999 law that firmed the will to entrench the 30 percent representation threshold in the 2003 Constitution.
Other laws include the Land Law of 2005, and the law against gender-based violence of 2008.
The land law is crucial as it allowed women access and ownership to the land resource, whereas they had no say on how the land was used or disposed.
The GBV law aims to safeguard against gender abuse, which remains a major challenge prevalent across the country.
The above accomplishments are some of the obvious.
But it is common knowledge, at least in the gender circles, that something has been out of kilter with women’s representation in policy and governance.
It is evident that the existing political will that has enabled the commendable figures in political representation at the national level is yet to trickle down to the districts and the communities.
Perhaps the forthcoming elections will change this. But representation at the provincial, district and sector levels has been well below the 30 percent threshold.
Take this, much noted, example: At the district level men are disproportionately represented as vice mayors in charge of economic affairs at over 80 percent currently.
One can guess why: it is where the money is.
The other reason is that vice mayors in charge of economic affairs usually take over in the absence of the mayor.
Women, on the other hand, are also disproportionately represented, also at over 80 per cent, as vice mayors in charge of social affairs.
Here also, one can see the stereotype: women are better suited for “social affairs”.
Despite the existing political will—and perhaps as a pointer to the work that remains to be done—persistent negative cultural norms seem to keep the nation from full realization of gender equality.
Various research findings show that, though the land and GBV laws exist, traditional social and gender norms continue to perceive women as inferior, while there is limited awareness on human rights.
Gender roles and norms continue to vest men with greater access to and control over power and resources.
Thus a nagging question, drawing from the findings: Could the high representation of women have done better to influence policy and address some of the persistent gender-based challenges?
As an example, with 56 percent majority it would be a walk over on any issue of women’s interest.
Yet, it was only this month Parliamentary passed a bill allowing maternity leave of 12 to 14 weeks, keeping with global recommendations. There had been a move to reduce the leave to only six weeks.
Also, the issue of abortion has been particularly sticky and divisive. Yet, based on the precepts of natural justice, and on purely scientific and objective grounds it is an issue of human rights with a determinable threshold between the viability of life in the womb against the life, wishes and best interests of both the unborn child and mother.
It remains a highly emotive issue world over, coloured by political, cultural and moral proclivities, or a combination thereof. I will leave it at that.
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