By Betty Cherif
64% of elected positions in the national government in Rwanda are held by women. No other country in the world has such an outstanding record.
It is interesting to note that this is not a situation that could have been predicted a few years back. Unfortunately, like many places in the world, Rwanda used to run on an extremely patriarchal system where women were not even to speak up in the presence of men. Despite the 30% quota mandated when the constitution was drafted, running for a political position was made nearly impossible for sisters.
As a result, thousands of women only councils were created throughout the country on the local level. In these councils, women got together and discussed challenges faced by the country and how they could contribute to finding solutions. These local boards were revolutionary. For the first time this group of citizens who was never allowed to express themselves before got to share, discuss, debate and challenge each other’s opinions.
Within these councils, women got elected to various positions and as they climbed the ladder, many started looking into applying for more responsibilities. The organizations became a form of practice for women interested in having their voice heard and making change on a bigger scale. It was’t very long before they started running against men at the national level for parliament seats. Doing remarkable work locally, women kept having the support of the communities way after meeting what at the time had seemed like an ambitious 30% quota. Today strong and committed sisters make up more than 50 of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Many argue that this shift is source of the economic growth, gender equality and increase in trade the country has experienced since.
“We can’t have an all women parliament” is a remark that has been made countless times across the globe about Rwanda’s government. Being blind to one’s privilege is the most dangerous threat to social progress. Failure to recognize privilege makes people forget the fact there has been all men parliaments on all continents for centuries and it has never raised concerns. Failure to recognize privilege blinds people to the fact that a government with 64% men is considered perfectly normal. Failure to recognize privilege takes away from the astounding beauty and progress that has been achieved.
Moreover, it is important to note that officials in the country insist that as they continue to strive for the protection of women, they are not forgetting about men, nor are they trying to eliminate them from the country’s decision making positions. Gender equality is and as always been the goal. During a powerful interview on the reemergence of women in the Rwandan government, Rwandan Ambassador Fatuma Ndangiza says : “We are lucky that throughout the process, Rwandan men and boys for the most part have been allies”. She also discusses what she believes is the most important challenge going forward: the lack of women participating in businesses. She thinks conditions should be created for the presence of more women CEO and in other executive positions in businesses. Political power has been a major advancement but it is essential for women to also have a share of the economic power.
For being an inspiration to all, for being number one on of the the best political list there could be, for showing that Africa can excel in the very area where we are not expected to… Join us in celebrating the majestic republic of Rwanda in their exceptional fight against gender inequality.