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Rwanda has the most gender-equal parliament in the world
31 May 2010
University of Gothenburg
Consisting of more than 50 percent women, Rwanda has the most gender-equal parliament in the world. Yet, this is not mainly a result of some highly successful gender-equality strategies. Instead, the genocide in 1994 led to a shortage of males in the country, and this has opened up for women in politics. This is one conclusion reached in a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Women make up 56 percent of the Rwandan parliament. This means that Rwanda has a higher proportion of women in its parliament than any other country in the world. In 2003, Rwanda caught up with and surpassed previously top-ranked Sweden, and in 2008, the margin had grown even wider. The author of the new thesis, Christopher Kayumba, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has analysed how women have managed to attain such great success in a country that suffers from poverty, lacks a tradition of gender equality and is still recovering from severe ethnic conflicts and the 1994 genocide.
"In developed countries, women’s chances of ending up in the parliament are determined by their academic and professional opportunities, by whether they have access to high-status jobs and by how voters feel about women’s position in society. This is not how it works in Rwanda. In my thesis, I emphasise the importance of the conditions that have arisen as a result of the war and the genocide, for example the lack of men," says Kayumba.
The 1994 genocide created a shortage of men, and this has led to more room for women in politics. In addition, the political elite in the country have tried to de-emphasise the antagonism between Tutsis and Hutus. Instead, there has been a strong push for Rwandan-ness – a political direction that embraces all Rwandans regardless of gender and ethnicity, and this has resulted in gender equality issues receiving a great deal of attention.
"As a result, women now have more room to make political demands and have started to organise themselves. Even the political institutions seem to acknowledge the demands made by female politicians," says Kayumba.
However, Kayumba adds that the political progress achieved by Rwandan women should not be seen as evidence that the country has attained a state of sustainable democracy and gender equality. Even if more women in politics is an encouraging step in the right direction, many political conflicts based on ethnicity are still bubbling under the surface.
"Officially, ethnicity has become a non-issue, but there is no doubt that violent ethnic conflicts may flare up in the future," says Kayumba.