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Women's Contributions to Governance: Findings from Research in Rwanda

April 11, 2008 // 11:30am12:30pm
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On April 11, the Africa Program and the Initiative for Inclusive Security co-sponsored an event to launch a new report by The Initiative for Inclusive Security on how women's leadership contributes to the development and stabilization of society. The event featured His Excellency James Kimonyo, Rwandan Ambassador to the U.S.; Ambassador Swanee Hunt, President of Hunt Alternatives Fund and Chair of the Initiative for Inclusive Security; and Elizabeth Powley, Director of the Rwanda Project at the Initiative for Inclusive Security.

Swanee Hunt gave an overview of the increasing role Rwandese women have been playing in the country's governance since the 1994 genocide. In this regard, she emphasized the new 2003 constitution in Rwanda which requires that women fill 30% of all decision-making positions and advocated adherence to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Hunt also focused on the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians, which was founded in 1996 as the first cross-party parliamentary caucus. and advocates further cross-party women's parliamentary caucus. She highlighted the fact that not only does Rwanda have the highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world (48.8% of the lower house of Parliament since the 2003 election and one third of the upper house), but also, women make up 36% of the President's Cabinet, they represent 3 of 7 Chief Justices in the Supreme Court, they occupy one third of the district councils, and two thirds of the executives in Kigali. Finally, Ambassador Hunt presented four factors that have helped women in Rwanda play such a prominent role in their country's post-conflict reconstruction. First, women in Rwanda have benefited from a supportive administration to the extent that President Paul Kagame has stated that he "fully recognizes the critical roles that women must play in society." Second, women also benefited from the constitutional parliamentary quota cited above. Third, there has been a significant amount of collaboration and advocacy by women's organizations. Finally, there has been a considerable amount of international support from organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

James Kimonyo highlighted the fact that Rwandese women have an incredible capacity to transform Rwandan society, and, as such, they should be given ample opportunities to do so. He noted that it was the country's 2003 constitution that laid down this framework and provided women with the ability to affect change within Rwanda. In fact, he noted that councils that boasted a significant number of women were better at providing for their communities. He went on to state the importance of increasing the percentage of women in decision-making positions throughout Rwanda, not through affirmative action, but by recognizing their skills and roles. Kimonyo further asserted that if women had been in decision-making positions in Rwanda prior to the country's 1994 genocide, a lot of lives might have been saved. Hence, in an attempt to reverse this trend, the Rwanda government ought to increase the significance and visibility of women in the country's leadership. On a hopeful note, he suggested that with the participation of women, by 2020, Rwanda will be able to achieve its dream of becoming a peaceful, prosperous and stable country.

Based in Rwanda from 2004 to 2007, Elizabeth Powley presented her research findings on the Rwandan model of bolstering women's role in government. In her presentation, she first noted that in assessing women's leadership in parliament, the research focused on two areas: women's legislative agenda and legislative processes. In regards to the former, Ms. Powley focused on the Gender-Based Violence Bill, which was introduced in 2006. This wide-ranging bill includes a definition of rape, it prohibits the abuse of boys and girls, and sets penalties on this abuse. Of particular note is the fact that this bill was introduced into parliament by four female parliamentarians as well as four male parliamentarians. In this sense, the bill was innovative in the way that it reached across both genders and succeeded in getting the male parliamentarians involved. In regard to the legislative process, Ms. Powley focused on three distinct aspects: the women's caucus, male-female collaboration and public consultation as it relates to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and constituents. First, as regards the women's caucus which was established in 1996, she emphasized the fact that not only is it the first cross party, cross ethnic political caucus, but it is also a forum that provides for a cross-fertilization of ideas and moderates the influence of political parties. This forum is significant in that it coordinates and amplifies women's voices; it provides a channel for funding and ultimately, strengthens the legislature. Second, as it relates to the male-female collaboration, Ms. Powley noted that this collaboration helps frame gender issues as broad social concerns, and garners wider support for gender-sensitive legislation by conscientiously using non-alienating language and recruiting male participation from the outset. Finally, in regards to public consultation, she highlighted the fact that this collaboration with NGOs and constituents not only generates useful data for legislation, but also informs and educates the public and builds the legitimacy of the legislature. She ended her presentation by emphasizing the fact that investment in women pays significant dividends to democracy, as currently demonstrated by the case of Rwanda.

Drafted by Aliya Jalloh, Intern and Roseline Tekeu, Program Assistant, Africa Program

  

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