Rwanda: a utopia for feminist leadership?

  • April 19th, 2022
  • Blog

After destruction, comes the need to rebuild.

In Rwanda, after the genocide of the Tutsis in 1994, which resulted in the killing of approximately 800,000 people in 100 days, there came the need for a rebirth. While some of the victims were women, the male population was the most affected by the genocide.

Women, who after the war accounted of 70% of the population, laid the foundation of the state and, consequently, for a new society. Before the genocide, most women were not educated and it was really rare for a women to own land or take a job outside the home, according to figures published by Human Rights Watch. After the war, however, there was a ‘phoenix moment’ where women rose to take on roles in all spheres of life, including political, economical and social sectors.

A new constitution was created in 2003, which contains plenty of references to equal rights and equal opportunities between genders: starting from the preamble which recognizes the “equality between men and women”, going up to art. 10 which states that women must occupy at least thirty percent (30%) in positions where decisions are being made. These constitutional acknowledgements are really significant, considering that they do not link these rights to any pre-given role: women and men have the same opportunities, and they can exercise their right in any way they choose (within given legal parameters).

I am pointing this out since, as an Italian, I cannot ignore that our Constitution, while recognizing women rights, paints a much less egatarian picture of women’s role in society. The most striking example if perhaps art. 37 Cost. which states “Working conditions must allow women to fulfil their essential role in the family and ensure appropriate protection for the mother and child” (and makes no reference to any advancement of the aforementioned woman’s career!).

In Rwanda, by contrast, according to the data gathered by Inter-Parliamentary Union, 61.3% of parliamentary seats are held by women.  Rwanda is therefore the leading country in the world in terms of women’s parliamentary representation. This data is amazing, compared to the situation in Italy, where only 36.3% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women.  This clearly shows us the repercussions of the different wording used by the two constitutions in terms of the recognitions of women’s rights.

The findings from Italy take on new significance when contrasted with the information gathered from Rwanda. I argue that these differences can also be further illuminated once we analyze the role played by the Constitution itself. A Constitution is not just a written text, a Constitution strictly depends on the culture of a population; it represents the will of the population; but above all, it represents the hopes in the development of a society. The inclusion of women in the representative process produced a cascading effect that resulted in an improvement of many spheres of life. Indeed, if we dive deeper into the data gathered by the World Bank, we can clearly see a series of beneficial effecs across the social, educational and economical sectors. Rwanda has became one of the fastest growing economies in the African continent, with an average growth of  GDP of nearly 8% in the last few decades . Literacy rates have improved by almost 50% and the average life expectancy has increased by 40 years. These figures clearly show all the improvements that Rwanda recorded since 1994. In other words, all the achievements that interested the Rwandase society as a whole and which have been recorded since the inclusion of women among the country’s leaders.

If we return, once more, to considerinf the constitution there is a key case for looking at rwanda as a symbol of hope and progress. Indeed, the recognition of gender rights in a constitution allows for the potential shown in Rwanda’s recent history to be unlocked. The key to real equality (in a legal and broader sense) is granting all people the ability to freely express themselves. Only then they will be in the position to really contribute to the development of a society. Since the Constitution sets the foundations of a society, it can play a key role in the recognition of these essential rights.

Virginia Lemme

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