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The World of Parliaments
Women: elections in Rwanda, seminar in Sri Lanka

Elections in Rwanda produce record result for women

With women comprising 48.8 per cent of the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies, the country has come the closest to reaching parity between men and women of any national legislature.

Last September, Rwanda held its first legislative elections since its devastating conflict in 1994. Clearly, these elections held a great deal of promise for the entrenchment of democracy in the country. Somewhat unexpected, however, was the number of women swept into power: 39 of the 80 seats in the lower house were won by women, while 6 of the 20 upper house seats are now held by women.

This result has put Rwanda at the top of the Inter-Parliamentary Union's world ranking of women in national parliaments. With women comprising 48.8 per cent of the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies, the country has come the closest to reaching parity between men and women of any national legislature, and replaces the long-time champion, Sweden, where women comprise 45 per cent of the national parliament. Women in the Transitional National Assembly of Rwanda previously accounted for 25.7 per cent of MPs.

For many Rwandans, the legitimacy of the new parliament hinged on an equal participation of men and women, as both voters and as candidates. This was reflected in the overwhelmingly endorsed Constitution, approved by 93 per cent of Rwandans earlier this year. Article 9 expresses, as a fundamental principle, the need for equality of all Rwandans and particularly between women and men, in a pluralistic democratic government. This principle is supported by a guarantee that at least 30 per cent of all posts in decision-making organs will be given to women. In fact, the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, has appointed women to 9 of 28 ministerial posts. The Constitution also includes two specific provisions about the election of women to the National Assembly: 24 of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are reserved for women, to be elected from each Province and the City of Kigali (Article 76); while the Senate is to be composed of at least 30 per cent women (Article 82).

The question of quotas
The tremendous difficulties faced by women in being elected to legislative office have been well documented by researchers and practitioners alike. With the world average of women in national parliaments at 15 per cent, various mechanisms for increasing the presence of women have been proposed, including quotas.

77 countries worldwide have implemented some kind of quota system to facilitate the entry of more women in their parliaments. Also used to increase the number of women in the private sector and at other levels of politics, quotas used at the national parliamentary level can be classified in two types: those established by national legislation, including the Constitution; and those established by political parties.

The path Rwanda has chosen is fairly radical, given the small number of countries which have opted to enter the principle of seats reserved for women in their national Constitution. In so doing, Rwanda joins other African countries such as Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. While only 11 countries have adopted a constitutional quota, its effectiveness is underscored by the fact that the average percentage of women in these national parliaments is 21.2 per cent.

A far more common approach has been for individual political parties to adopt quotas for women. 59 countries have quotas at the party level, either to ensure that women occupy a proportion of parliamentary seats won by the party at elections, or to guarantee that internal decision-making structures include women.

Rwanda's reserved seats, as enshrined in its Constitution, will guarantee a strong proportion of women in the country's national parliament for as long as that provision remains. It is important to highlight, however, that in addition to those women elected from the provinces to the 24 reserved seats in the lower house, Rwandan voters themselves saw fit to directly elect a further 15 women. Given 53 seats are directly elected, even without the constitutional quota, women would still have comprised a remarkable 28.3 per cent of the Chamber of Deputies.

IPU Assistance
Over the past three years, the IPU has supported the reconstruction of Rwanda, along with its UNDP partner, placing particular emphasis on the role of women in parliaments. It has organised two seminars aimed at improving women's access to the political sphere. In 2001, a seminar was held to consider means of ensuring that the new Rwandan Constitution would be gender-sensitive. The seminar brought together a number of different groups, including members of the Transitional National Assembly, senior government ministers, members of the Legal and Constitutional Committee, and women's organisations. More importantly perhaps, the seminar triggered a popular consultation process amongst various groups of women in Rwanda, from government, parliament and civil society. Over a two-year period, these consultations produced a series of concrete recommendations aimed at entering principles of equality between men and women in the Constitution. This process ultimately produced what is now considered to be one of the most gender-sensitive constitutions in the world.

This year, the IPU, in cooperation with UNDP, organised a workshop for women candidates running in the electoral campaign. It was clear that Rwandan women were very enthusiastic about being part of the political process and that there was a general political recognition of the need to have women on board.

The road ahead
While there is no conclusive explanation for the large number of women elected to Parliament, the constitutional allocation of seats to women was a contributing factor. It will, of course, be interesting to see what the entry of so many women in the Parliament will do for politics in Rwanda. Whether this change at the decision-making level will usher in changes in the more traditional societal expectations of women remains to be seen. The success of women in politics in the Nordic countries, for example, has long been attributed to a culture which fundamentally values the equality of women in all sectors of society, be it in the world of paid work, schools and universities, or at home. Time will tell if such a culture also takes root in Rwanda.

For more information, please see:

Increasing efficiency in the Budgetary Process: the South West Asian Experiance

« Budgets are not neutral instruments. They reflect the interests and concerns of people: men and women, boys and girls. Engendering the budget is the best means of meeting the aspirations and needs of men and women, boys and girls.This is one of the conclusions of the seminar entitled Parliament and the budgetary process, including from a gender perspective, which took place in Colombo, from 26 to 28 May 2003.

The regional seminar for Parliaments of South West Asia was jointly organised by the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with the support of the World Bank Institute and the United Nations Development Programme. Chaired by the Hon. Joseph Michael Perera, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, the three-day meeting brought together members of parliament and parliamentary staff from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The seminar benefited from the inputs of a number of resource persons from Sri Lanka, Uganda, New Zealand, Germany and the World Bank Institute.

In his final report, Mr. Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee of the Sri Lankan Parliament, noted that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to analyse the budget and understand general economic issues, including from a gender perspective. "Capacity-building initiatives such as training and professional development activities may be required. Seminars such as this one are very useful in this regard and should therefore be encouraged", he concluded.

The Colombo seminar is part of a series of regional meetings which the IPU has organised for legislators over the past four years.


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