Women in Rwanda: The Truth about Gender Equality

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There is only one parliament in the world where women outnumber men—and it’s in Africa. Women make up 64 percent of the Rwandan parliament (LBHO-DATA-1). To put that in perspective, Sweden’s parliament is 44 percent women, and the United States’ national legislature is 19 percent women. [1]

The path to gender parity in Rwanda was not an easy one. After the brutal 1994 genocide, women made up 70 percent of the surviving population. Paul Kagame, the leader of the successful Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the current president of the nation, committed the government to empowering women. The new regime established a quota which required at least 30 percent of the seats in parliament for women (LBHO-LAW-2). Other measures passed increased primary and secondary education attendance rates of girls. It appears that the women of Rwanda seek to rebuild the nation and build their own opportunities at the same time. [1]

The high number of women in power may lead some to assume that Rwandan women have overcome obstacles that women face in other nations. Rwanda has even been held up as an exemplar of gender equality by the international community. This is only part of the truth.

A gender equality comparison between the public sphere and private sphere tell two entirely different stories.

Justine Uvuza, a native Rwandan, returned to Rwanda as a doctorate candidate to research the differing relationships of gender equality in public and private spheres. She interviewed 29 female parliamentarians and found that despite their power in the public sphere, they did not experience the same equality within their families. [2]

Although these parliamentarians enjoy respect at work, many are expected to accomplish the bulk – if not all – of domestic labor in their homes. Some even expressed fears of violence if they did not comply with their husbands’ demands. [1] Despite national laws against domestic violence, it remains a widely accepted occurrence within homes (DV-PRACTICE-1, DV-LAW-1).

Picture2.pngA common Rwandan phrase “niko zubakwa” means “that’s how marriages are built.” The phrase implies that an unequal balance of power is the accepted norm in marriages. Government reports state that one in five women report being victims of sexual violence and many by their own husbands. [3]

Rwanda lacks gender equality in more areas than violence. Women are most likely to live in poverty in rural areas, and girls face discrimination for pursuing careers traditionally considered as masculine jobs. [3]

These facts lead to an important question: will laws and public policies that push for gender equality be enough to change deeply rooted gender norms in Rwanda?

Perhaps gender equality from the top down can only change so much. Rwanda shows how policies can change—or fail to change—social norms. While Rwanda’s female dominated parliament has passed critical legislation pushing for gender equality, it will be essential to monitor how cultural norms evolve and change as a result of this legislation.

Variables: LBHO-DATA-1, LBHO-LAW-2, DV-LAW-1, DV-PRACTICE-1

–by BCT

References:

(1) Warner, Gregory. “It’s The No. 1 Country For Women In Politics – But Not In Daily Life.” NPR. 2016. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/07/29/487360094/invisibilia-no-one-thought-this-all-womans-debate-team-could-crush-it.

(2) Abari, Neeknaz. “Rwanda’s Path to Gender Equity.” Berkeley Political Review. 2017. https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2017/10/18/rwandas-path-to-gender-equity/.

(3) Topping, Alexandra. “Rwanda’s women make strides towards equality 20 years after the genocide.” The Guardian. 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished.

 

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2 thoughts on “Women in Rwanda: The Truth about Gender Equality

  1. V Hudson says:

    This is terrific! Whenever I see an article that touts Rwanda as one of the best places for gender equality–simply because women outnumber men in parliament–I just roll my eyes! The rubber hits the road for women in terms of what is going on WITHIN THE HOUSEHOLD. If the household situation is authoritarian, exploitative, and abusive, then the % of females in parliament makes no difference at all . . . Thanks for bringing this out so vividly.

  2. Ashley Alley says:

    This is such an important topic! We cannot just accept things at face-value, such as assuming that high representation for women in politics indicates gender equality. The WomanStats Project with its 300+ variables reminds us that gender equality is a multi-faceted ideal. While we rightly celebrate progress in any one of the variable areas, we cannot be complacent and assume that progress in one area is enough.

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