RWANDA: Women Poised to Retain Majority in Parliament

Sunday, July 28, 2013
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

With constitutional quotas for interest group seats in their favour and all political parties legally bound to respect women's quota of at least 30 per cent of their parliamentary nominees, women may retain or even widen their majority in the Chamber of Deputies after the upcoming September elections.

The constitution ring-fenced 27 seats in the 80-member parliament for special interest groups, with 24 seats reserved for women who are elected in exclusively woman polls. The other three interest-group seats are shared amongst the youth (2) and persons with physical impairments (1).

Just as they are eligible candidates for the 53 openly contested seats, women are also eligible to contest for the three seats reserved for the youth and persons with disabilities. Indeed, one of the youth MPs is Marie Pelagie Uwamaliya Rutijanwa, a woman who is highly expected to seek re-election. This is a great advantage that is likely to see women sweep a wider majority of seats in the Lower Chamber of the House.

Rwanda became the first country with the highest women representation in parliament after the 2003 elections in which women took 39 out of 80 seats, or 48.8 per cent. During that election, women won additional 15 openly competed for seats. The numbers have since been growing.

In 2008, women extended their numerical strength in the legislature to 45 (or 56.4) as Rwanda became the first country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament.

This is against a global average of 19.5 per cent as of 2012, according to statistics by the Inter Parliamentary Union, a global association of parliamentarians. Moreover, some countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Solomon Islands, Belize, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau do not have a single woman in parliament.

So how did Rwanda as a country and Rwandan women in particular manage to break the political barrier?"

It is because of the political will at the highest level and the determination by Rwandan women to come out and lead," said Speciose Nyiraneza, the coordinator of the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum.

The supreme law in the country, the constitution, requires not less than 30 per cent women participation in all sectors of decision-making in public service and elective offices. For that reason, political parties are therefore required by law to guarantee that at least 30 per cent of the candidates they put forward for elective offices are women. Over time, parties have gone beyond this constitutional requirement.

For example, the RPF that has been credited for championing gender equality over the years. In fact, in their recently concluded party primary nominations, women and men shared equal slots at 60:60 for the next round of vetting ahead of the September elections.

There is a big possibility that women will, at worst, maintain their numbers in the House."

As a country, we don't want to drop from number one to the second position. We don't want to decline in any aspect of life whether in economic development or women empowerment, we have to keep developing," Nyiraneza said.

And such, political enthusiasm in her voice appears to be among many women contesting in the forthcoming elections.

One woman parliamentarian who has participated in the electoral process since 2008 said that part of the reason for the enthusiasm is the success with which women have executed their legislative roles. This, she said, has inspired many young women to delve into the world of politics.

"Women do their work with a heart of a mother. A heart of a mother is careful, passionate and takes care of the interest of the whole family - children and the husband," said the parliamentarian who is in the Lower Chamber of Parliament, preferring to remain anonymous.

With the national demographics skewed in their favour, at about 52 per cent of the population, and the growing thinking that women are better leaders with women vouching for their own, the numbers of female legislators will most likely keep going up in every election in Rwanda.