Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rwanda: Women Helping Women

With Gov. Sarah Palin serving as a daily reminder that women politicians don't always act in the best interest of women, it is refreshing to read of Rwandan women's success in advancing women's rights through increased representation in government:

Women hold a third of all cabinet positions, including foreign minister, education minister, Supreme Court chief and police commissioner general. And Rwanda's parliament last month became the first in the world where women claim the majority -- 56 percent, including the speaker's chair.

One result is that Rwanda has banished archaic patriarchal laws that are still enforced in many African societies, such as those that prevent women from inheriting land. The legislature has passed bills aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, while a committee is now combing through the legal code to purge it of discriminatory laws.

One lawmaker said the committee has compiled "a stack" of laws to modify or toss out altogether -- including one that requires a woman to get her husband's signature on a bank loan.

"The fact that we are so many has made it possible for men to listen to our views," said lawmaker Espérance Mwiza. "Now that we're a majority, we can do even more."

You can read more at the Washington Post.


Anonymous said...

This isn't the result of "progress", it's the result of the genocide that killed mostly men. So many women were widows and orphans that there was literally not enough men to keep the country running. Women outnumbered men three to one.

Women vastly outnumber men yet STILL can't get or can barely obtain EQUAL numbers.

Hopefully, though, Rwanda keeps movng forward out of the bloody tragedy of the nation's past.

Anonymous said...

an anthropologist at the university of louisville recently published an article on this after spending time in rwanda, and her findings are much more of a "mixed bag" than the WaPo. while there are definitely good things going on for rwandan women, the fact remains that rwanda is a one-party state under a very militaristic "strong man" government who accuses any political dissenters of "supporting genocide." with such a stifled political discourse, i am concerned for the long-term chances for women's liberation in rwanda (whatever that would look like, since i don't want to put a western/white frame on the idea of "liberation")

here's the article i referenced:
Burnet, Jennie E.
2008 Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda. African Affairs 107(428):361-386.

Habladora said...

You are right that it was horrifying genocide that prompted the 2003 change in the constitution that requires "at least 30 percent of all parliamentary and cabinet seats go to women." With the population in Rwanda still 55 percent female, perhaps you could say that the fact that 56 percent the parliamentary seats including the speaker's chair are held by women is due to necessity rather than progressiveness.

Yet, I still maintain that what these women are doing with their power is heroic and inspiring. It is easy for us only look after our own interests and work within the established order. These politicians are instead bettering the lives of all women in Rwanda, and I'm convinced that requires courage, insight, and a hope that things can be made better - a hope that many might find difficult to maintain in the wake of such devastating tragedy. With this post I did not mean to imply that Rwandan society had adopted a progressive attitude towards women in the Western sense of the word (in fact, I'm not sure I'd even make that claim about our society in the States), but rather that the women are using their governmental positions to do real good.

Habladora said...

oops, didn't see your second comment before posting mine - thanks for the article, I'm sure it will be interesting.