Category Archives: Gender in Africa

The Effect of Increased Women’s Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda-Substantive Blog 4

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.


Umoja – a village with no men

Umoja is a village in Kenya, I had seen a video on Facebook and decided to do a little more digging into this village. The name of the village in Swahili means “unity”. This village has banned men from itself, it was founded in 1990 by female survivors of rape and sexual violence, but also is a safe haven for women who flee these situations; they also welcome women who are fleeing genital mutilation and child marriage but also anything that causes harm emotionally or physically to women. The village only consists of 20 women and 200 children.

Umoja has inspired other women-only villages within Kenya.

“Building community through peace, love and understanding rather than fear and violence.”


Personally I thought this video was amazing, to find out that these women, even what they’ve been through have found strength to fight to get their lives back and help other women in Kenya and other fleeing women to do the same; it’s inspirational.

Husband School

Husbands gather to discuss maternal and population concerns in a quest to improve conditions within their own community. (Photo credit: UNFPA)

In Niger, more than one woman dies every two hours in childbirth, and many more become disabled.  With high levels of gender inequality and maternal deaths, the United Nations Population Fund began offering “Husbands’ School” to educate married men about maternal health and related matters.  This program brings together cultural and religious leaders, NGO’s and married men to not only discuss these issues, but to make decisions and put action plans into place.  The idea has quickly spread to other African countries and has spurred interest in hygiene as well as working towards healthier pregnancy and childbirth.

I think this is a good example of educating people and saving lives while maintaining cultural relativism.  Involving cultural and religious leaders has allowed this program to flourish and create maternal and other public health awareness across 5 countries, with several more countries also showing interest in this program.


Working towards ending FGM

February 6 of each year is “The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.” This article highlights efforts of the UN in educating communities about the myths and negative outcomes of this procedure still common in several African and Middle Easter countries in both Muslim and Christian communities.

FGM has many serious short – and long-term health consequences for girls and women. This year’s theme was “ending the ‘medicalization’ of the procedure.” FGM, even when conducted by a medical workers, is harmful to girls and women; however, as these workers become better educated about the negative consequences of FGM, some are beginning to refuse conducting the procedure.

How Menstrual Cups Can Improve Educational Outcomes For Girls In Africa

Menstruation is an often overlooked factor in understanding poor educational outcomes for girls in parts of Africa and other developing areas.  Without access to sanitary products, many girls (and women) are often forced to use items like unsanitary rags, leaves or old newspapers to cope with their periods.  Due to the lack of sufficient sanitation facilities at schools as well as an inability to purchase proper sanitary products, many girls can miss up to 6 weeks of school per year.

Project Dignity is one of several organizations devoted to providing access to sanitary products.  For each box of menstrual cups purchased at participating locations, they promise to provide a free 3 month supply of menstrual cups to a girl in one of these developing areas.  By providing access to sanitary products, projects like this can help increase educational outcomes for girls as well as addressing a public health issue.

RH Reality Check – Menstruation can be a curse

WomenCare Global – Project Dignity


I “just” wanted to point this out…

As students — many of whom will be scouring the job market for opportunities in the near future — we are often preoccupied with the written and spoken language that we use; not solely for the numerous research papers, essays and presentations we are responsible for producing over the course of our educational careers, but because we are aware of the value judgments people make about our dialect and our prose.

How many of you have dedicated an immense amount of time to making sure the carefully-crafted letters and e-mails you send to peers, colleagues and future employers are “just right” before pressing send? We check and double check spelling and grammar, we make sure we use tone that’s appropriate for the intended recipient, and we fire away. Whether we speak on the phone or in person, we tend to be more careful about the words we use because unlike written language — which we are typically free to edit until we are satisfied with the final result — there’s no “taking back” spoken words (or the inflection behind them) when you’re trying to quickly convey a message or attempting to prove yourself worthy to someone whose approval matters to you. We think about our word choices — some people even code-switch between the dialect they use naturally versus the dialect they use in a professional setting — and hope that we aren’t coming across in a way that misconstrues our intent or puts us at risk of negative evaluation.

However, have you ever considered that even the subtle, seemingly innocent word choices you make may be stripping your words of their full power?  Ellen Leanse thinks so.  In her latest article — It’s time to stop using ‘just’ in your writing and speaking (published today at and in its original version located at — Leanse charges women with using the word ‘just’ as “a ‘permission’ word.”

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a “child” word, to riff Transactional Analysis. As such, it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control. And that “just” didn’t make sense. … I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite. It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

Upon noticing the prevalence of the word “just” in the e-mails sent by women at her company, Leanse decided to conduct an informal experiment in which observers listened to a six-minute conversation between a man and a woman about their respective business startups — each had three minutes to speak — while the observers tallied the amount of times they each used the word “just.”  The man used it once; the woman used it either five or six times.  As Leanse states, this experiment was “not research: it’s a test that likely merits more inquiry.”  Until a formal experiment is conducted, I urge you to inquire within yourselves.

Look through your e-mails and text messages.  How often have you used the word “just” in an attempt to sound friendlier or non-demanding?  You may be unconsciously asking permission for your thoughts and words to be validated by others, which can diminish the impact behind them.  Ladies: it is time to stop diluting our convictions, our lofty goals, and our grandest plans with the constant use of what otherwise would continue to be considered an innocuous four-letter word in a sea of written and spoken communication.  I “just” thought you should be aware of your own authority and the power it holds when you wield it with confidence.  Laura Redman

Punishing Rape with More Rape? DRC Trauma Stories

Last week, Lauren Wolfe of Women Under Siege wrote about the rape and violence of everyday life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This violence is tearing families apart. Men, women, and children are caught in the horrors of war and the men are fighting for a sense of control. Husbands of women who have been raped often choose to leave their wives because these women have “lost their value.” 43% of men surveyed thought men whose wives had been raped should leave. Those women whose husbands choose to stay are often beaten or raped again. More than half of these men reported perpetuating some form of violence against their wives. Rape among civilians has increased 17-fold and violence, trauma, hunger, and poverty are rampant and studies have found that men are dealing with the trauma by inflicting more violence, usually on their wives and children. Researchers state that “Family has become the battlefield where men try to regain control and power that is lost elsewhere in life.”  Lindsay Cortwright

Living Peace is an organization that is trying to promote community support for families that have experienced trauma because of the war and giving hope to these scarred communities. You can read the full article here.

South African Gang Rape is Outrageous

This article is very depressing and reflective of many of the issues we have been discussing regarding the book, Half the Sky.  When I read this article I experienced a variety of emotions ranging from disgust, anger, sadness, and astonishment.  The references to elderly women being raped in their late 80’s and 90’s was almost too much too much to stomach.  This is the kind of article that demands some type of immediate action if it is no more than posting this article on social media sites and blogs to hopefully draw attention to the epidemic that seems to be not just impacting South Africa, but many countries throughout the world.


Mona el-Tahawy on Lack of Women’s Progress and the Firestorm that followed

Here is an article that appeared in Foreign Policy, which sent Twitter, FB, and all forms of social media buzzing:,0 discussing “the real war on women.”

For an example of a response, see

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