Taking stock of the female dominated Parliament in 2013

When Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa at the end of November brought home an award for the country’s leadership in bridging the gender gap, the episode turned the spotlight on exploits by the women–led parliament in 2013.
MPs read through the Ombudsman's report . The New Times/John Mbanda
MPs read through the Ombudsman's report . The New Times/John Mbanda

When Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa at the end of November brought home an award for the country’s leadership in bridging the gender gap, the episode turned the spotlight on exploits by the women–led parliament in 2013.

During the Women in Parliament’s Global Forum annual summit in Brussels, Belgium; Mukabalisa was presented with Rwanda’s award in the category of political empowerment.

This followed a September parliamentary vote where in the lower house, 51 out of the 80 seats (64 per cent) were occupied by women. Mukabalisa was elected Speaker, taking over from MP Rose Mukantabana, the country’s first female Speaker (2008-2013). One of the two Deputy Speakers is also a woman. Women also call the shots in the nine standing committees. They head four committees and, deputise in six.

The numbers, however, are not out of the ordinary taking into consideration that over 51 per cent of the Rwandan population is female. And, their House domination does not imply that their male colleagues play no role. Lawmakers work as a team and it is reasonably unfeasible to separate their input basing on the gender ‘verdict’.

Women MPs often feel insulted, and rightly so, when asked about their impact ‘beyond the numbers’ because they suppose that their role as regards closing the gender gap is not about championing the interests of women. Gender issues, they insist, are not women issues. They look at the impact of their clout, in general, as a combined effort with their male colleagues. One cannot display deliverables that are as a result of women’s sole efforts.

Even so, women’s influence in the House is significant. The Hunger Project (THP), a global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger, says that studies show that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. 

Accordingly, families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. This appears to be the case in Rwanda considering the country’s growth indicators. 

In 2008, the government launched a gender responsive budget project. Since then, the House has influenced the review and enacting of legislation to close the gender gap in various areas.

Globally, female underrepresentation persists at all levels of society mainly because traditional social norms, gender stereotypes and biased perceptions of women’s effectiveness in leadership roles are still widespread. Rwanda’s set-up is more explained by the fact that women account for majority of Rwanda’s population. 

In 2013, MPs did not only debate and endorse the merger of seven public universities and institutions of higher learning to form one public institution, the University of Rwanda, but they also upped the momentum on the pursuit for a gender sensitive budget, and – among others – influenced policy making in government through the House’s oversight function. The House again impacted on the country’s doing business ratings after approving legislations paving way for, among others, use of immovable property [cars etc] as bank collateral.

The new land use law also trimmed land taxes and, most importantly, put a check on conflict. In the health sphere, legislators ensured that the revised law allows for beneficiaries of Mutuelles de Sante insurance scheme to get services from anywhere in the country. This is unlike in the past where the former were obliged to return to their areas of registration to get medical services.

Looking to enhance regional integration, MPs also wrapped up business in 2013 by approving the ratification of two key EAC protocols –foreign policy coordination and cooperation in defense – that will go a long way in making life easier for East African citizens.

On their last day of business, early august, the second legislature passed Bills including one establishing the general statutes for the public service, another on genocide ideology, and another determining the powers, mission, organization and functioning of the national intelligence and security service.

Earlier, MPs had, among others, also passed other Bills including the establishment of the Rwandan Elders Advisory Forum (REAF), a new think tank of elders that will advise government on almost all matters of national development.

Another positive that cannot go unnoticed is that the House also sprinkled new optimism in the region’s search for peace, security and development. MPs rejuvenated a bilateral ‘parliamentary friendship’ that led to a series of promising bilateral parliamentary diplomacy missions between the Congolese and Rwandan parliaments, in a bid to finding lasting solutions to the region’s common security problems. 

Recently, the Rwanda-DR Congo lawmakers’ diplomatic platform was strategically widened to include Burundi, in the fold of the seemingly defunct trilateral grouping of the Economic Community of Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL).

As we usher in a new 2014, however, some concerns linger. For one, some in the public who are probably not well versed with the everyday hustle and bustle in Parliament continue to complain about the delayed maternity insurance fund.

The general feeling is that before the revised labor code was passed, in 2012, lawmakers should have left no stone un-turned to ensure that the fund was set up.  In an end-year Press conference, Mukabalisa told reporters that the third Parliament will monitor and push the executive to deliver on the long-awaited Maternity Insurance Fund. Let us give her the benefit of the doubt.

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