Sustaining Women’s Gains in Rwanda: The Influence of Indigenous Culture and Post-Genocide Politics
Publication Date: Jun 2009
In 2003, Rwanda elected 48.8 percent women to its lower house of parliament, giving it the world's highest percentage of women in a national legislature. This paper from the Institute for Inclusive Security highlights the importance of policies, mechanisms, and institutions that can provide a structural framework for sustaining women's gains. For example the constitutionally mandated quota, which guards against reversals of women's gains, is discussed. The paper notes that the most important function of these institutions is that they help fundamentally challenge gender culture by normalising women's presence in political life. The authors show how mechanisms such as quotas help guard against reversals of political will and reinforce ongoing cultural shifts that are reshaping gender relations in Rwanda. The paper provides a discussion of various Rwandan cultural practices that either support gender equality, such as the deep respect for motherhood, and others practises such as bride price or polygamy, which have undermined gender equality. It then analyses how Rwandan activists and politicians may refer to indigenous practices and traditions as a way to promote women's empowerment - for example the tradition of women as peacemakers which is frequently invoked in relation to women's role in rebuilding Rwan¬dan society. Ultimately, this paper contends that modern references to practices that focused on women's value in Rwanda's pre-colonial era aim to generate support for women's political participation by empha¬sising its continuity with traditional culture. This has the effect of reducing potential opposition to women's political empowerment.