SEMINAR ON THE THE PROCESS OF ENGENDERING
A NEW CONSTITUTION FOR RWANDA
Kigali (Rwanda), 20-22 June 2001
The seminar was held in Kigali, on the premises of the National Assembly, on "The Process of Engendering a New Constitution for Rwanda" for Rwandan MPs, representatives from the PRO-FEMMES TWESE HAMWE Rwandan women’s associations, and delegations from the President's Office, the Primate's Office, the Government, the Supreme Court, the Legal and Constitutional Committee and other national committees, international bodies in Kigali and other partners of the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians (FFRP).
Parliamentary delegations from Burundi, South Africa and Tanzania were also present, and their comments and experience with regard to engendering the Constitution and other laws were very enriching.
The seminar was organised by the National Assembly and the Forum of Rwandan Women MPs (FFRP), in cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Development Programme.
During the three-day event, participants didiscussed the following main topics: functioning of the Legal and Constitutional Committee in Rwanda and progress report on the proceedings; integrating gender policy in the Constitution; the inclusion of principles of gender equality and women’s human rights for a gender-sensitive Constitution; a comparative study of issues linked to the elaboration of a new Constitution; the Constitution and the law; elaboration of laws, including that of the national budget, which take gender issues into consideration; women’s access to decision-making; persuading the Government to take more account of women’s needs, and gender integration strategies in the Poverty Reduction Programme.
The working groups focused on "reflecting on affirmative action and other principles of equity and equality"; "cooperation mechanisms between the FFRP and organisations for the promotion of women, and civil society at large, within the framework of the elaboration of a new gender-sensitive Constitution for Rwanda", and "strategies aimed at putting into action and implementing the principles enshrined in the Constitution".
A consolidated document was produced on the development of these topics and the ensuing discussions. A number of recommendations and guidelines were identified.
- We welcome the fact that the Legal and Constitutional Committee opted for a participatory and inclusive approach which reaches all of the various segments and spheres of Rwandan society.
- Given that Rwandan women have long been penalised due to socio-cultural, traditional and economic constraints which still prevail in society, we are pleased that they have become key players in the process of drafting Rwanda’s new Constitution.
- We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that the process of drafting the new Constitution as well as the Constitution in itself are more gender-sensitive, for equal participation by women and men in the conduct of public affairs is at the heart of democracy.
- Accordingly, the FFRP reaffirms its desire to establish a framework of cooperation with the Legal and Constitutional Committee, with the Ministry for Gender Issues and the Promotion of Women, and with organisations for the promotion of women and with civil society in general, with a view to ensuring that the gender perspective is taken into consideration at all stages of the process. In this respect, we welcome the founding of a Follow-up and Coordinating Committee, which will be responsible for drafting a memorandum on gender for submission to the Legal and Constitutional Committee.
- In this connection, women from all segments of society, starting at the grassroots level, must be aware of their role in this process and must convey their concerns and wishes to the Legal and Constitutional Committee. To this end, a grassroots consultation with Rwandan women’s associations will be conducted by the Forum, in cooperation with the Legal and Constitutional Committee, involving all partners concerned with gender and development issues.
- The Constitution must take due account of the socio-economic and cultural realities of our country, reflect the positive values of Rwandan culture and include a gender perspective, in order to guarantee the well-being of society as a whole and social progress and to safeguard social harmony.
- It should therefore guarantee gender equality and the principle of equity in all sectors of the life of the nation. To achieve this goal, the principle of gender equality and the principle of the prohibition of gender-based discrimination must be clearly stated in this fundamental Charter, which will have to adopt wording that gives real meaning to these principles.
- In addition to the principle of gender equality and the condemnation of discrimination, the Constitution should mention the obligation to eliminate by the law all discrimination, inter alia by affirmative action.
- It will be recalled that affirmative action is defined as "special temporary measures designed at creating de facto equality between men and women through the implementation of strategies deliberately aimed at improving the status of the disadvantaged group, whether it be women, men, girls or boys".
- Moreover, the Constitution should be drafted in simple, easy-to-understand wording, to facilitate understanding by the population as a whole. Accordingly, it should use gender-sensitive language so as to combat sexist stereotypes conveyed by language.
- Finally, the Constitution should include specific provisions on effective implementation and compliance with these principles. It should make provision for a number of mechanisms that ensure gender promotion.
- Implementation of the principles enshrined in the Constitution will moreover have to be ensured by amending and eliminating discriminatory legislation, in conformity with the Constitution and in partnership with all segments of society.
- The law on the national budget and poverty-reduction strategies will also have to take into consideration and respond to issues relating to gender equality.
- Affirmative action measures will have to be taken to promote equal participation by men and women at all levels of society.
- The introduction of mechanisms for adapting the domestic juridical system to the norms of international law is essential in order to ensure that the rights guaranteed by international human rights texts, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Rwanda has ratified, can be safeguarded at the national level.
- Ongoing efforts should be made to make the people aware of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and more particularly the principle of gender equality.
- The exchange of experiences with other countries is extremely worthwhile and should be pursued in the future.
- We invite international organisations, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the Economic Commission for Africa, to pursue and reinforce their support to programmes to benefit African women, throughout Africa, aimed at ensuring that Constitutions and laws are gender-sensitive.
- Lastly, we wish to express our thanks to the National Assembly, the FFRP, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, UNDP and all of the seminar participants for having contributed to the smooth functioning and success of this event.
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