- In the new Parliament, Rwanda's women legislators are nearly matching men in numbers. With the female decision-makers firmly in place, now Rwandan women all over the country are to feel an improved situation.
There are nearly as many women as men in Rwanda's two legislative chambers, making the central African country a world leader in gender balance in political representation and decision making.
Women won 45 percent of seats in the September elections, including 39 out of 80 seats in Parliament and six out of 20 seats in the Senate. Only the Swedish legislature matches this proportion, according to the Human Development Report 2003, made by the UN development agency, UNDP.
Also, President Paul Kagame has appointed women to nine out of 28 ministerial posts, among the highest proportions in the world. One of the key ministries held by women is just the Ministry for Gender and Promotion of the Family.
Valérie Nyirahabineza heads the Ministry of Gender, as she did before the elections. She is now to enhance empowerment of Rwandan women with fresh government funds. Other key ministries held by women include the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Rural and Social Affairs and the Ministry of the Presidency.
The new constitution, adopted last May, paved the way for these gains, mandating that women hold at least 30 percent of all positions in government and other decision-making positions. Women and girls make up 52 percent of Rwanda's eight million people.
Mr Kagame pledged to empower women and youth, as well as the disadvantaged when he became President last month, describing them as "the pillars of the new democratic order." He called the elections and the many women winning legislative seats good steps in the central African country's development.
Also gender activists are optimistic about a coming 'revolution from above', given the large number of female legislators and other decision-makers. Aquiline Niwemfura, Executive Secretary of the follow-up of the Beijing Platform Action in Rwanda, told UNDP that she was looking forward to results.
She was sure of the competence of the new legislators. "I am confident these elected women will assume their heavy responsibilities brilliantly, not only because they have the will to serve their voters, but because most of them have served for years in women organisations and know the challenges women face," Ms Niwemfura told the UN agency.
Women gained from strong political leadership and grassroots support during broad consultations to frame the constitution. The international community, including UNDP, supported these efforts.
UNDP and the Netherlands funded a US$ 1.5 million project to train women in decision making and create exchange mechanisms, strengthen women's civil society organisations and establish structures for women at all government levels, Jean de Dieu Kayiranga of the UN agency reports. This had included creation of the Ministry for Gender and setting up 24 communal women's funds for income generating projects.
Other initiatives UNDP supported helped promote greater sensitivity by public institutions to gender concerns and formulate an integrated national framework for gender equality. UNDP also backed efforts to encourage women's participation in the electoral campaign, including a booklet with names and pictures of all women legislative candidates.
- What Rwanda has achieved is by any measure anywhere in the world remarkable and noteworthy, especially if one takes into account this country's recent political history and the development challenges that it faces, said UNDP Resident in Kigali, Macharia Kamau.
Rwanda is now set to achieve key Millennium Development Goals, including Goal 3, which calls for countries to promote gender equality and empower women, he said. "This is indeed testament to a people and a leadership determined to put in place democratic foundations that will ensure that this nation maximises the potential of its people, irrespective of gender."
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