Rwanda is a leading light in the journey towards women’s empowerment. The country has the highest proportion of women in parliament globally and has high levels of female education and employment. However, there are still areas where progress needs to be made.
The journey towards women’s empowerment in Rwanda began following the tragedy of the genocide that took place in 1994. The male death toll resulting from the civil war and the genocide meant that 70% of the remaining population was female. This meant that many jobs which had previously excluded women were now open to all. The change in the economic role of women led to a change in their political role. The 2003 constitution ruled that 30% of the seats in parliament must be reserved for women.
What has changed?
Today, women make up 61% of the Rwandan parliament. This is the highest proportion in the world and makes Rwanda one of only three countries in the world with a female majority parliament. The high incidence of rape during the genocide has caused Rwanda to lead the fight against sexual violence, and in 2009 the country outlawed marital rape. In 2020, Rwanda ranked 9th in the world for gender equality in the Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum. The country has much higher rates of female education and employment than most countries in Africa.
What has not changed?
Rwanda has made great progress towards gender equality over the last twenty years. However, traditional attitudes towards the roles of men and women within the household have remained. Despite the high rates of female employment, women are still expected to serve men within the home. The empowerment of women in the wake of the genocide meant that change occurred out of economic necessity rather than a widespread change in attitudes. As such, feminism is still frowned upon by large parts of society. Many men and women see it as a Western ideal that is not fit for Rwanda.
What hope is there for change?
Looking ahead, the women of Rwanda have many reasons to be hopeful. The progress made so far will help their future. As a new generation of women enter the positions of economic and political power that have been opened up to them, they can use their power to change attitudes within their country. Their story has also inspired progress in other Sub-Saharan countries such as Namibia and South Africa. Countries across Africa can now follow the Rwandan example without following a Western ideal.