Global Resources

Political Reform to Increase Quotas for Women in Parliament: The Use of Electoral Gender Quotas in Rwanda

Author: J. M. Kantengwa
Publisher: Pathways of Women's Empowerment RPC
Publication Date: Jun 2007
Electoral gender quotas accelerated greater representation of women in the Rwandan Parliament, with 48.8 per cent of parliamentary seats, the highest in the world after the first ever multiparty elections. While the use of electoral gender quotas is a useful and important mechanism, multiple factors produced the Rwandan success. For example, gender was integrated in peace-building initiatives, and the rights of women and girls were recognised and acknowledged in national development plans, in education and health programmes and in property ownership, while the fight against GBV and, particularly, violence against women took centre stage as a national concern. Women were particularly called upon in the physical and social reconstruction of Rwanda - in the repatriation and reintegration of refugees and in social healing, unity and reconciliation programmes. The challenges of national reconstruction provided opportunities for Rwandan women to demonstrate their abilities and, at the same time, good education opportunities for Rwandan men and society in general to gradually let go of traditional prejudices and gender stereotypes.

This presentation highlights the history of Rwanda and its socio-economic transformation in the years following the genocide of 1994. It outlines how the socio-economic roles of women changed after the genocide along with perceptions of women. In turn it examines a range of factors conducive to the rise of women in Parliament:

• Political will and the commitment of Rwanda's President, who repeatedly reminded Rwandans that women's participation is a human right as well as a development strategy.
• Timeliness, recognising that transitional periods are when citizens and politicians are most receptive to shifting mindsets and drafting a gender-sensitive constitution. Post-conflict is also a key time to ensure the principles of international laws are integrated into national constitutions.
• Involvement of men from the outset, lobbying them and building partnerships with the men who lead opinion.
• Consolidating and strengthening gender machineries, such as the Ministry of Gender, women's councils, women's organisations, women's leagues and caucuses, is useful to refine and sustain momentum.
• Laws that demonstrate inequalities or any other form of discrimination against women are unacceptable.
• Drawing an all-inclusive national gender policy with a clear action plan to institutionalise gender approaches to planning, programming and budgeting.

Finally, the use of electoral gender quotas is a valuable tool, but women need to use this opportunity of affirmative action - while it lasts - to mobilise themselves into a critical mass capable of pushing gender equality in other areas of life, beyond numbers of women in Parliament.