Women’s Representation in RwandaRwanda has a higher percentage of representation of women in government than any country in the world. In 2017, there were 49 women in the lower house of parliament, which is more than half of its 80 seats, and 10 women in the upper house of parliament consisting of 26 seats. The high proportion of women in government came after the devastating Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the country has made significant strides since then.

A Shift in Gender Representation

The genocide in Rwanda marked a change in gender representation because, after the violence had subsided, 70 percent of the surviving population was women. This was a result of the practice of killing men and allowing women to survive as sex slaves during the genocide. However, it was not only the new gender disparity that caused an increase in women’s roles in government, but the country also introduced quotas requiring 30 percent of candidates for public office to be women.

It is important to note that the Rwandan government decided to increase the representation of women in government through candidate quotas in political parties rather than seat reservations in parliament. According to a study by Mala Htun published in Perspective on Politics, “Women and men belong to all political parties; members of ethnic groups, by contrast, frequently belong to one only.” By using quotas, the Rwandan government is acknowledging the bipartisan nature of women in government.

Therefore, the most efficient way to establish a higher representation of women in government is to promote their representation within political parties because they are a cross-cutting group, meaning that women have an active political presence across the political spectrum. This thoughtful approach to increasing women’s representation in the Rwandan government has resulted in record-breaking numbers of women becoming involved in political life in Rwanda and setting positive examples for young girls throughout the country.

The Difficulties Women in Government Face

The presence of women in such politically powerful positions in Rwanda has not come without difficulties. Many women face backlash from their families or husbands for sacrificing domestic work in order to become political leaders. In fact, Berthilde Muruta, Executive Secretary in the Rubavu District noted that “there are people who think that we come to meet men, or for other business, which makes it hard to be trusted by our husbands.” Additionally, female politicians in Rwanda are oftentimes not seen as equals to the men in similar positions.

According to Claudette Mukamana, a District Vice Mayor, “When people see you holding any of those [elected] positions as women, the very first question asked by everyone is: Will she be able to perform her duties? Is she capable of holding such a position?” Despite these difficulties, the presence of so many women in the Rwandan government has resulted in the passing of several key pieces of legislation to improve the lives of women and girls throughout the country.

These reforms include legislation to alter the Civil Code to allow women to have equal inheritance rights as men, equal pay, consequences for gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace and further prevention and consequences for violence against women and children. In addition, with 7 of the 14 supreme court justices in Rwanda now being women, new laws were passed requiring that both boys and girls must attend primary and secondary school.

Areas to Improve

A lot still needs to change in regards to the perception of women’s roles in society. Furthermore, there is still more progress to be made, especially in terms of violence against women. The Rwandan government performed a study that showed that two out of every five women ages 15 and older had been physically abused at least one time in their lives. As more women are elected to office, hopefully, more people will change their perspective in these areas and these statistics will represent that improvement.

The representation of women in the Rwandan government has led to significant advancements for the rights of women and girls throughout the country. Globally women only hold 21.9 percent of all elected seats in government. Promoting the equality of men and women in political positions in Rwanda and around the world is integral to solving many of the issues governments face. Although the system is not yet perfected, the world could learn a lot about the importance of women in government from Rwanda.

Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Morocco Overturns Law Protecting Child Rapists
Up until this week, Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allowed those convicted of “corruption” or “kidnapping” of a minor to marry his victim and avoid prosecution. That is, Moroccan law held that a person who rapes a child could evade punishment – by marrying his victim.

Rooted in traditional views holding that the loss of a daughter’s virginity is a stain on her family, the law has been encouraged by judges to spare families from shame.

Yet for one family, the law has cost them the ultimate price.

Article 475 came to international attention in 2012 when 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. Filali was accosted on the street and raped when she was only 15. When she told her parents two months later and they took the matter to court, the judge pushed marriage.

“It is not something that happens a great deal – it is very rare,” reported Abdelaziz Nouaydi, who runs the Adala Association for legal reform. Sometimes, he conceded however, families of victims would agree to a marriage out of the fear that their daughters would be unable to find a husband were it to get out that she had been raped. The families, then, would push the marriage onto the daughter in order to avoid a scandal.

According to Filali’s father, it had been the prosecutor who had advised his daughter to marry. The perpetrator, Moustapha Feliak, initially refused the marriage arrangement; yet given that the penalty for the rape of a minor was 10-20 years in prison, he ultimately accepted the marriage. Filali apparently complained to her mother multiple times that her new husband was physically abusive but her mother only counseled patience.

Seven months into the marriage, 16 year-old Filali swallowed enough rat poison to end her life.

Her death received extensive media coverage and sparked protests throughout a number of Moroccan cities. Furthermore, a Facebook page titled “We are all Amina Filali” was formed in the days after the suicide and proceeded to grow exponentially. A campaign was also started by the international advocacy group Avaaz that demanded the government adopt promised legislation to aid in fighting gender-based violence. By the time Avaaz turned the petition in to Morocco’s parliament, more than a million signatures had been collected.

This week’s new amendment proved that these efforts were fruitful, however, though activists hailed Morocco’s new legislation, many express that more should be done. For example, on one hand, says Fatima Maghnaoui, who heads a group supporting female victims of violence, “it’s a very important step. But it’s not enough… We are campaigning for a complete overhaul of the penal code for women.”

Amnesty International agreed with this view calling Wednesday’s amendment a move in the right direction but also “long overdue.” The global human rights group pushed for a comprehensive strategy to protect Morocco’s women and girls from violence: “It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s suicide and nearly two years for the parliament to close the loophole that allowed rapists to avoid accountability. It’s time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse,” the rights group’s deputy regional director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: BBCGlobal PostHuffington PostAl Jazeera
Photo: Alif Post