With a female majority in parliament, women at all levels of government and equal literacy rates for boys and girls, Rwanda looks to be a model of equality.
The country made history in 2008, when 45 women were elected out of 80 members of parliament. At 56%, this is by far the highest percentage of women MPs in any government in the world. The constitution of Rwanda, adopted in 2003, states that at least 30% of posts in “decision-making organs” must go to women across the country.
In elections for district and sector council officials last year, women won 43.2% of district and Kigali City advisory posts. Women lead a third of Rwanda’s ministries, including foreign affairs, agriculture and health, and every police office in Rwanda has a “gender desk” to take reports of violence against women, as does the national Army.
Usta Kaitesi, a teacher of gender and law and vice-dean of post-graduate research in Rwanda University’s Faculty of Law, says political will was lacking in the years up to the genocide even though the country had already signed the 1978 UN Convention prohibiting all discrimination against women.
“Generally, there was an environment of tolerating discrimination” she says, regarding ethnicity, religion and gender.
Nowadays, she says, “There is political will to avoid discrimination in Rwanda, and that will gives a legal direction.”
“Most countries do have good laws, laws that don’t have any form of injustice but the application of such laws is another issue altogether,” she adds. “So in Rwanda there is a political will to empower women and women are quite aware of their role to play in society.”