Despite the overwhelming presence of women in the Rwandan Parliament (64%, 51 seats out of 80), many experts believe this progress is ‘fake’, one-sided and does not represent an overall real change of the situation of women in this tiny eastern African country.
These gains mask the ongoing difficulties faced by women in terms of representation and participation in other decision-making positions outside of Parliament, the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said in its weekly dispatch.
Many observers also say women’s authority and participation in other spheres of Rwandan life are being undermined, and their competency underestimated and perhaps questioned.
That is why many are ‘dumped’ in parliament, where a simple yes or no is enough to be seen as contributing to change.
Quoting the country’s National Gender Statistics Report for 2013, ISS’s Irene Ndungu, who penned the report, said apart from the higher female representation in Parliament and equal representation (50%) in the state minister and permanent secretary posts, women’s representation elsewhere is generally lower than that of men.
Ndungu is an ISS consultant in the conflict management and peacebuilding division, and is based in the South African capital Pretoria.
Furthermore, the same report also noted that only 23.8% of Rwanda’s ambassadors are women, adding that at the level of public institutions’ directors general and executive secretaries, women hold only 15,7% of positions.
The situation looks the same elsewhere: men constitute 94.1% of the rectors of public institutions, 73.2% of the members of public institution boards and 54.5% of civil servants, ISS noted.
“Rwanda’s women and the government still have their work cut out for them in ensuring gender parity at all levels of decision-making,” Ndungu said, adding that politicians’ touting of the parliamentary wins tends to camouflage the contrasting realities for women elsewhere.
“The wins gained could thus be cast as a smokescreen to obscure the under-representation and unequal participation of women in other areas of leadership.”
Ndungu also remarked that despite Rwandan women’s gains, there are concerns regarding the extent of transformation so far in women’s empowerment.
“The gaps listed in the above report suggest why this question is likely to resonate increasingly in future. The familiar feminist question of numbers vis-à-vis the quality of the numbers is thus likely to become more pronounced.
“This will especially become the case as the number of women in parliament continues to increase while segments of the female population, particularly the rural poor, still do not feel their own needs are being adequately addressed or represented.”
Many African governments appear to be travelling this route in recent years – increase women’s participation in Parliament – in order to be seen as working towards the emancipation and empowerment of women.
But activists say the reality on the ground is shocking and unpleasant to see!
Photo by Str8talk. Women MPs at work in Rwanda