Kigali, Rwanda – The 2013 Rwandan Parliamentary elections ushered in a record-breaking 64 per cent of seats won by women candidates. The Government of Rwanda, with the UN as a key partner, has been pursuing gender equality since 1994. The political participation of Rwandan women has been facilitated by a constitutional mandate and the work of key institutions, notably the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, the Rwanda Women Parliamentarians Forum (FFRP), National Women’s Council (NWC) and the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO). Rwandan women have created a remarkable political space for themselves in just twenty years.
The One UN under the leadership of UN Women, along with the Government of Rwanda and other partners, continue to work together to guarantee further advances in gender equality and good governance.
During the civil war and up to the 1994 genocide, women’s parliamentary participation was 18 per cent at most. This number increased in the years leading up to the 2003 constitution, reaching a record 56.3 per cent in 2008. The increased numbers of women’s participation is a result of gender- sensitive constitutional quotas, an innovative electoral structure, and the participation of partner institutions.
The 2003 Rwandan constitution provides for a minimum 30 per cent quota for women in all decision-making organs, covering the bi-cameral Parliament, political parties, and other government bodies. 24 of 80 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, are reserved for women. These 24 seats are elected by a special electoral college, composed of voters from local women’s councils and district councils.
Twenty-four seats reserved for women
The National Women’s Council (NWC) is a forum for women’s participation in national development and governance. At age 18, all Rwandan women and girls become members of the NWC, which operates at village, cell, district, and sector levels to mobilize women’s decision-making. Women obtain civic education information on the importance of political participation and experience participation through electing or running for NWC positions. During the national parliamentary elections, the NWC trains women candidates on effective campaigning, building self-esteem and confidence, and how to promote gender equality once elected.
In the 2013 election, 103 candidates ran for the 24 women’s seats, an encouraging number despite challenges. As a group, women candidates encountered financial obstacles to reaching women in all community levels. As individuals, women candidates faced a balancing act of professional and personal responsibilities. Additionally, logistical problems, such as getting to campaign sites, posed a barrier to women’s participation. The NWC, with financial support from the One UN/UN Women, was able to guarantee transport for all women’s candidates during the campaigning process. The NWC also advocated for more campaign site locations. These measures ensured that women candidates were able to connect directly with voters.
Election monitoring for gender
The Gender Monitoring Office (GMO) is a governmental body that monitors, advises and advocates for gender equality in all institutions in the country. The GMO was an official observer for the Parliamentary elections from September 16th-18th 2013. With support from One UN/UN Women, the office was involved in advocacy and monitoring throughout electoral process, from pre-election civic education programs, political parties, campaigns, voting administration, to post-elections.
An election checklist for GMO observers illustrated important elements for ensuring gender equitable elections. This included election site preparations, staging, equipment for candidates, audience participation, attendance, and other relevant demographics. For the candidates, the GMO monitored content and delivery of speeches, including whether candidates’ language was gender sensitive, neutral or biased.
One possible barrier to participation that emerged from GMO election monitoring was time adherence. Women are less likely to participate in civic education or campaign sites if starting and ending times are not followed. Higher stages also presented a problem for women candidates, where certain skirt lengths attracted visibility and inappropriate comments, which could impact candidates’ self-confidence. Due to the GMO’s input to the National Electoral Commission, adjustments were made, which resulted in increased participation. One UN and UN Women supports the important work of the GMO through financial and technical assistance, to assure that gender equality is reflected in every stage of the electoral process.
Besides the 24 women’s seats, Rwandan women candidates successfully won 26 seats in the general election (out of 53 available) and a youth seat. Women now occupy 51 seats in the Rwandan parliament for the next five years. Currently, Rwanda’s legislature has the most women’s participation globally.