March 8, 2019

Women’s Access To Positions of Power In Rwanda: A Full Picture From Bottom-Up

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When the story of women’s access to positions of power in Rwanda is told, most tend to focus on the numbers of women in parliament. But this doesn’t give a complete picture.

As the nation and the world celebrate International Women’s Day, The Chronicles brings you women’s achievement in numbers in their struggle to gain access to decision-making positions in the formal administrative structures of government in the country.

To begin with, Rwanda’s 2003 Constitution puts equality between women and men among the 6 “fundamental principles”

Sixteen years after the adoption of these provisions in the constitution, numbers show that in the higher echelons of power─like in the legislature, the parliament and cabinet, women have achieved far more than 30% but in the lower administrative structures, numbers are still comparatively low.

Article 9, section 4 commits Rwanda to “building a state governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic government, equality of all Rwandans and between women and men reflected by ensuring that women are granted at least thirty per cent (30%) of posts in decision making organs”

Looking at this journey, statistics show that women’s access to positions of power actually begun immediately after the defeat of the genocide regime.

Because most perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi were mostly men and because many male perpetrators fled to neighboring nations while others were in jail, estimates point to 70 percent of Rwanda’s post-genocide population was female in the immediate aftermath.

Faced with the problem of what Dr. Christopher Kayumba referred to as “missing men” in his 2010 book titled: ‘Understanding High Numbers of Women in Rwanda’s Parliament’ and ensure the survival of the nation, women stepped up.

Mothers took in orphaned children and organized support groups for widows. Women moved from cleaning buildings to reconstructing them. They farmed and started businesses. Throughout the country, they created stability in the aftermath of the unspeakable violence. Many others were appointed to formal positions in government.

Eleven years after the genocide, following presidential and parliamentary elections in 2003, Rwanda became the first country in the world to have over 48% of its members of parliament as women. Five years later, in September 2008, it broke its own record following subsequent parliamentary elections.

As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, it’s appropriate to give a full picture of what women have managed to achieve in terms of numbers 16 years after the constitution’s promulgation.

To do that, The Chronicles reviewed official reports compiled by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, tracking how many women occupy positions at different levels of government─including cabinet, Senate, Chamber of Deputies, Provincial Governors, District Mayors, District Councils and Sector Executive Secretaries.

Cabinet – Over the years, gender numbers in cabinet vary depending on the appointing authority’s strategic direction for the country. The current cabinet is 26 and 50% of them are women.

Senate – Coincidentally, the Upper House of parliament also has 26 Senators and 36% of them are women.

Chamber of Deputies – It has 80 Members with 53 of them directly elected through one-person-one vote in a general election and 24 seats reserved for Women elected through Electoral College. The rest are from special groups like the disabled and the youth.

61% of the 80 members in the lower chamber are women─down from 64% in the previous parliament.

Governors – Rwanda has 4 provinces and Kigali City. The mayor of Kigali is elected from a complicated process right from village to the 3 districts making up the city. The City Mayor is a woman; the third female to led the capital after the genocide.

 However, the other 4 Governors are appointed by the President in consultation with cabinet and none is a woman at the moment.

District Mayors – There are 30 districts led by a mayor who is elected using a college mechanism. Individual voters elect delegates who go on to constitute the electorate for the mayor. However, the City of Kigali has its own Mayor due to its uniqueness as the capital.

District Council: These are representatives of the diverse sections in each district and City of Kigali including people with disabilities, women and business community. Some are voted right from the village to the district as sector representatives.

In total, number of members of district councils range between 26-32, depending on how many sectors a district has. Using 30 as the average, it comes to a total of 900 council members. And 43.6% of these are women.

Executive Secretaries: There are 416 sectors across Rwanda. The Executive Secretary is a technical officer and therefore holders are technocrats vetted from the public service commission.

However, the district council can remove an executive secretary in consultation with the Local Government Minister.

According to a 2009 study by Dr Christopher Kayumba, in 2008 women occupied 36% of the ministerial seats. In the judiciary women, constituted 40% of the judges. Today, women and men are equal in numbers in cabinet.

Female judges also make up 50% of the total, according to available Ministry of Gender data.

The Chronicles has put together an infography showing how many woman are represented at various decision-making levels of government today.  

What’s clear, as the nation celebrates International Women’s Day, evidence shows that substantial progress in terms of numbers of women who occupy positions power in national institutions has been made but, as the infographics show, numbers are still low at lower levels.

Plus, it’s not clear whether, as assumed, high numbers have necessarily led to substantive or quality representation or output. 

Reporting by Fred Mwasa and Cyiza Theogene

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