Issue Number 41 • October 2013
Rwanda leads the world in female parliamentarians …By Roopa Gogineni
Gender empowerment to guide future development priorities
wanda maintained its lead among countries with high percentage of women representation in the world. A total of 26 women were directly elected in the just concluded General Election, in addition to the 24 seats reserved for women in the constitution. This figure accounts for unprecedented 64 per cent of seats in Rwanda’s parliament, more than any another country in the world. Connie Bwiza Sekemana has been a Member of Parliament since 2003, elected in the first legislative vote held after the genocide. “The issue is not about sex but equal opportunity and upholding fundamental rights for every citizen. Who brings what? It does not matter whether it is a woman or a man as long as they can deliver in their respective positions,” Sekemana explains. With a female majority in the legislature, Rwanda has been able to enact laws that empower women throughout the country. Sekemana and her peers have defied party differences to form a Forum of Women Parliamentarians.
Equality Last year, parliament amended a law to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest or to protect the mother’s health. Sekemana notes the newly elected parliament will continue to focus on equality issues. “Among issues to be taken to account include gender violence and gender imbalance,” she says. A lecturer at the National University of Rwanda Christopher Kayumba has published a book on the impact that women representation has had on Rwanda’s parliament. He said the gender ratio speaks to the evolution of politics in Rwanda. “The old narrative was ethnicity that focused on Hutu-Tutsi politics. So the gender discourse has helped to shift the discourse away from the ethnic,” he observes. Kayumba says that while women candidates continue to enjoy support from the electorate, beyond the quotas, there has been a concerted political effort to promote women in politics. “Parties decide who goes on (the) party list of candidates, and in which order. So if political party leaders can decide to put women in winnable positions, it also says something about nature of political parties and leaders,” Kayumba observes.
Priority The Rwandan government, led by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has prioritised women’s representation and upheld provisions in the Constitution that demand that women hold 30 per cent of positions in all decision-making organs. Women played a significant role in the early days of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, born of the guerrilla army that brought an end to the genocide in 1994. A group of Rwanda Patriotic Front women fighters formed in exile in Uganda, Sekemana included, now occupy seats in parliament. The gender ratio in parliament reflects that of the greater population. The genocide dramatically changed Rwanda’s demographics. More men were killed during the violence, and more men currently are in prison for genocide related crimes. Courtesy Voice of America
…By Robert Nyagah
he Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goal has been challenged to intensify efforts to address poverty by seriously focusing on women who comprise 51 per cent of the world’s population, but 70 per cent of the world’s poor. Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, the President and chief executive officer Global Fund for Women says that with women clearly disadvantaged there was need to look at their issues more keenly. In a statement, Kanyoro argues that women own only one per cent of the world’s assets and earn a mere 10 per cent of the wages paid.
drafting of a set of goals that will guide development priorities for years to come. All facets of life, Kanyoro indicated need to be tackled given that “improvements in women’s education and health have been linked to better outcomes for
Goal The statement addressed to The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goal that met in New York says: “Improving the status of women is an important goal in its own right for it has significant benefits for families and communities.” Kanyiri noted that with the world to address the question of poverty reduction and protecting the environment for future generations, the question of women and their place in the world economy remains crucial. Created at last year’s Rio “Earth Summit”, the Open Working Group is quite important given that it has been charged with
“Improving the status of women is an important goal in its own right for it has significant benefits for families and communities.” Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro
A young woman entrepreneur displays her baskets at a market in Malindi. Many organizations and government institutions are now focusing more on women in order to reduce poverty in Kenya. Picture: ROBERT Nyagah
children”. She reiterated that women remain key partners in environmental protection given that they were often responsible for growing food as well as gathering water and fuel besides being endowed with an incentive to act as stewards of nature. “Women were not only on the frontline of coping with environmental crises but also took a lead role in finding creative solutions to many crises,” Kanyoro explained. She added: “If we truly want to realise sustainable development, women must have the means and the power to build a better world and that should include engaging them in decisionmaking at all levels apart from ensuring equal access to education, healthcare and opportunit.”
Efforts According to Kanyoro more efforts should be made to end harmful practices like child marriage and gender-based violence which sharply limit women’s horizons. “This means sustained efforts to ensure that all women have access to family planning and reproductive health services with the ability to decide whether and
when to have a child are need,” Kanyoro noted. She said that around 222 million women lack meaningful access to effective and modern methods of contraception. Kanyoro noted this has led to 80 million unplanned pregnancies, 30 million unplanned births and 20 million unsafe abortions annually. He points out that access would prevent 79,000 maternal deaths and more than one million infant deaths each year hence warning that as the Group drafts a new set of sustainable development goals, women’s rights and health must be given top priority. He laments that at the Rio Earth Summit, where the process of drafting sustainable development goals began, the issues never came forward as strongly as it had been anticipated. He said the 49-page Rio document mentioned women in less than 0.01 per cent of the entire text. Only two of the 283 sections addressed women’s needs for family planning. He hence challenges Prof Kamau who is at the helm to do better and establish as a forwardthinking set of goals that recognize the crucial contributions of women.