Located in one of the most troubled regions of Africa, Rwanda is a small, fertile country with about 400 residents per square metre, one of the highest population densities in the world.
Rwanda is one of the countries leading the way in a global phenomenon that is making an impact in Africa as elsewhere: the empowerment of women – something that has been accomplished there with amazing speed. Within two decades, female representation in parliament across the continent has increased from 6% in 1988 to the present 18%.
With 56% of parliamentary seats held by women, Rwanda takes first position in the league table; Sweden comes in second, with 47%. In Brazil, only 9% of members of the national congress are women.
In Rwanda, women also hold a number of ministerial positions, heading government departments which include External Relations and Trade.
The establishment of quotas of representation was a decisive factor in this development. Three African countries stipulated a minimum share of 30%: Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Tanzania and Uganda have majority voting systems, and maintaining a quota has been the only way that female representation can be guaranteed, but Rwanda combines the reservation of seats with a system of proportional representation.
The Rwandan system has allowed a political base which enables women to achieve real changes in life to establish itself. Like other African countries, Rwanda has a patriarchal society, and the fact that women now have a strong presence is having a major impact in areas such as property, inheritance and sexual violence. However, the rapid changes in gender equality have generated a lot of resistance among men, and have also led to a rise in domestic violence.
**Rwanda’s bloody past**
It is clear that Rwanda’s bloody past marked a decisive point in the evolution of the role of women in society. In 1994, the country was the scene of a genocide on an apocalyptic scale, in which more than a million people were massacred. The country was left in ruins.
Many Rwandan men were killed or imprisoned, and many fled to other countries. UNIFEM, The United Nations Development Fund for Women, compares Rwanda’s situation in the immediate aftermath of the genocide with Europe after the end of the Second World War. At that point, there was no choice: women were obliged to assume the responsibilities of the men who had gone, and took seats in the transition government that followed the genocide.
The voice of Rwandan women was heard, and the results were undoubtedly positive. The numbers don’t lie; their representation in parliament is almost double the 30% stipulated by law, thus achieving a record in the history of democratic nations.
*(Translation/Edition: Janete Imanini/Claire OKell)*