Rwanda is one of the countries that has lived one of the bloodiest conflicts of the last decades that between April and July 1994 left more than 800,000 dead when ethnic Hutu militias and government forces attacked Tutsi Rwandans. In the article that I selected this week for my final paper, its authors -Claire Devlin and Robert Elgie- analyze what has been the effect of the increase in the number of women in the Rwandan parliament in the post-conflict stage.
In the case of Rwanda, although women were victims of murder, rape and sexual torture during the genocide, it was men and boys who were the primary targets for extermination (Devlin and Elgie 2008:241). Consequently, after the conflict the majority of the population was female (70%) and many women had to exercise traditional male roles in the economy and politics during the post-conflict stage. In the specific case of politics, since 2003 elections, Rwanda has been consolidated as the country with the highest percentage of women’s representation in parliament in the world: In 2008, 48.75 per cent of the seats in the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies are held by women (Devlin and Elgie 2008:243)
In order to assess the effects that women representatives have had on the Rwandan parliament, Devlin and Elgie (2008) interviewed 9 woman who were in parliament both prior to the 2003 election and who were also elected to parliament after 2003. The authors examined the women’s impact in three areas: Culture of parliament, political agenda and public policy.
Regarding culture of parliament, they found that Rwandan female deputies did not seem to have been relegated to traditional ‘women’s areas’ , on the contrary women held positions like Minister for Education, Science, Technology and Research, Minister in the Office of the President and Minister of Economic Planning and Cooperation. Likewise, women occupied 60 per cent of the vice-presidential positions and 27 per cent of the presidential positions on the standing committees (Devlin and Elgie 2008:244). Aditionally, the interviewed manifested that ‘social climate’ of parliament changed positively which translated into greater solidarity among women and a more fluid relationship with men who increased their respect and interest in gender issues.
In terms of political agenda the deputies identified as a central themes of their agenda the support to initiatives focused in women entrepreneurs, education for girls and women, female solidarity within the parliament and international female solidarity.
Meanwhile, in the sphere of public policy, the great achievements have been the status of category one for rape or sexual torture, a law extending the rights of pregnant and breast-feeding mothers in the workplace, a law on the protection of children from violence, the gender-sensitive Rwandan Constitution and the ‘Law on the Prevention, Protection and Punishment of Any Gender-Based Violence’ (Devlin and Elgie 2008:249).
Ultimately, the increase in the number of women in the parliament in Rwanda has allowed that in the post-conflict stage, the gender issues have had a special importance and that not only the parliament but all the government instances have begun to work favor of women’s rights.
Devlin, Claire and Elgie Robert. 2008. “The Effect of Increased Women’s Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda” Parliamentary Affairs (61:2), 237–254.