Moving The Goal Posts On Gender Stereotypes

  • June 24th, 2022
  • Blog

In a recent workshop on gender stereotypes in a secondary school in France, I asked the students to take sheets of paper and sketch out their playground. We labelled benches, sports equipment, football pitches – anything which determined a particular use of the space, formal or informal. Then I asked them to use ‘F’ (for fille) and ‘G’ (for garçon) to indicate where, at break times, the majority of girls and boys could usually be found[1].

Each group presented their findings at the end of the session. There were some small variations in perception – hotly debated – but the overall conclusion was unanimous. Boys dominated the space – particularly the central space, used for football, even though there was no official pitch – and the table tennis areas. Girls congregated mainly at the edge of the playground, around the benches or beyond.

This exercise was pioneered by French gender geographer Elise Maruéjouls, whose 2014 thesis – and subsequent work – showed how clearly the school playground is a gendered space. It is a powerfully simple and revelatory audit for the group. The discussion afterwards on the why depends on how much we have already been able to identify and deconstruct gender stereotypes together. For students who (like most adults) have not given much thought to whether girls and boys use public spaces differently, it can either be a struggle to answer the question, or tempting to fall back on those very stereotypes: football is for boys [when pushed: because they run faster/kick better/know the rules] and skipping and hopscotch are for girls [when pushed: because girls like that kind of thing].

But – stop press – girls don’t always, or only, play hopscotch. They are just taught that they should. As a child, I have vivid memories of playing football at school at breaktime, of various chasing and racing games.  I climbed trees. I fell down and had constant scabby knees. I have always encouraged my daughter to do all and any of these things, but as a parent, I cannot help but notice that the clothes in which girls now seem to be dressed from a young age (impractical, distinctly feminine, behest with one-word slogans about beauty/kindness/sparkle) do not lend themselves to being the equal of boys in the playground (or, in fact, in life). Nor does the way in which we bring girls up to be clean, kind, polite, or self-effacing.

Maruéjouls’ work has revealed that, typically, over 70% of playground space is occupied by boys[2]. Her research in has also showed that this extends to other public recreational space – and services.  For example, sporting activities organised by local councils or clubs for young people in France have a two-thirds male to one-third female ratio[3], with a sharp drop-off point observed for girls the age of eleven or twelve (the beginning of secondary school).

What could be put in place to address these issues? Practically, it’s about better planning. This is hardly (or shouldn’t be) rocket science: public service or infrastructure projects are required to conduct assessments to understand users’ habits, needs or expectations before getting started.  But often these evaluations do not think past the ‘standard’ user.  Anyone who is in a wheelchair (or who has helped someone else in a wheelchair) will have experienced this, trying to navigate uneven pavements or public transport; likewise, anyone with a pram, or a visual impairment.

The same is true in considering the gendered use of public spaces. For example, in the Ile de France (greater Paris) region, 55% of all public transport users are women, and this figure rises to 64% for bus journeys[4]. This is a pattern which is observed worldwide, as men are more likely to use cars than women, and women are more likely to combine different journeys for multiple connected tasks (school-runs, work, grocery shopping).  It would seem obvious that women should be consulted specifically on where new public transport stops are planned, connections between services, or timetables. Obvious, but rarely automatic.

If the service or structure already exists without such a consultation, it can be adapted. In the example of playgrounds, Maruéjouls has worked with councils and schools in France to re-organize play, with equipment (ropes, balls, hoops) in the centre of what is usually the (boy-dominated) football pitch. Other schools have altered playground layouts with smaller, connecting spaces or green areas. In her bestselling book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez describes how local authorities in Vienna (Austria) investigated and then addressed the issues which were leading to girls to stop using parks after the age of ten: creating smaller communal spaces (instead of one large space which the girls felt they had to ‘compete’ with the boys to occupy) and more entrances (instead of a single main entry point, where the boys would congregate in an intimidating way). The absence of this kind of consideration, beyond being frustrating, is highly damaging. As Criado Perez summarises, “when planners fail to account for gender, public spaces become male spaces by default.”[5]  This also perpetuates further inequality, not least because supposedly gender-neutral public budgets become male budgets by default, too.

Public spaces which encourage interaction and equal access to facilities are fundamental to building equality. But it is also important to begin tackling some of the underlying reasons for gendered uses of space which create and reinforce that inequality in the first place. The stereotypes we reproduce, repeat and reinforce from childhood onwards have an impact. They influence the sports boys and girls play, and their value (hopscotch and skipping, at the bottom of the hierarchy, are kept well to the side of most playgrounds). They influence the space that boys are encouraged to take up (physically and verbally) in ownership of the world around them. They influence the literal side-lining of girls in public spaces. And they frame how girls and young women are viewed and treated by boys – as playmates, as classmates, and later, as partners. 

A final example. In the whole of France, with its penchant for street names which pay homage to great figures of the past, only 2% of roads are named after women[6].  But even that 2% of the limelight isn’t exclusive. Whenever I am walking down a road named rue Pierre et Marie Curie in France, I can’t help but wonder what else it would have taken for a Nobel prize-winning female scientist to feature alone on the sign-post, without being preceded by her husband’s name. A second Nobel prize, perhaps? Oh, wait…

Kate Hart


[1] The group of students were mixed in age (11-16) and gender. Gender identity was not specifically discussed within the group but teachers had indicated that at least one student who identified as queer. Workshops focused primarily on equality between girls and boys, but in recognition that a binary approach was part of a broader definition of gender identity/sexual preference, and that intersectionality was a key concept for understanding any issue of equality. 

[2] https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/09/16/dans-les-cours-de-recreation-les-filles-sont-invisibilisees_5355861_3224.html

[3] https://api-site.paris.fr/images/85756

[4] Étude du Syndicat des Transports d’Île de France (STIF) sur l’utilisation des transports publics, 2016, in: https://api-site.paris.fr/images/85756 (page 17).

[5] Criado Perez, C. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. Vintage (2019). Page 66.

[6] https://qucit.com/en/news/gender-inequality-in-the-public-space

The 2022 French Presidential Election: Votes, for women?

  • May 27th, 2022
  • Blog

The second round of the French Presidential elections took place on 24 April. Twelve million people (including me) were glued to their television for the results. With a literal sense of déjà vu: for the third time in 20 years, the country was facing a run-off between a mainstream and far-right candidate.

In the final seconds before the results came in, one of the commentators wondered aloud whether France was about to about to live a historic moment if Marine le Pen was elected – not only as the country’s first far-right President, but as its first female leader. Ultimately, the question was moot, as we know. But it got me thinking. Is there a gendered vote in France?

School textbooks in France place the introduction of universal suffrage in 1848. But (in usual-default-male mode) ‘universal’ actually translates as ‘male’. French women did not get the vote until 1944, almost a century later. According to Sciences Po-Cevipof political analyst Janine Mossuz-Lavau, when they did begin to vote, it was initially conservatively, given the strong influence of Catholic values of the period[1]. Over time, and with increasing participation in the workforce, issues as social protection, pay or working conditions lessened those conservative voting patterns. But as much as the popular press and opinion pollsters continue to warn would-be candidates about the need to woo the ‘women’s vote’, it would appear that there is no longer any significant difference between how women and men vote as gendered groups in France. Across the 12 candidates of the first round of this year’s Presidential election, for example, the maximum gap between female and male voting intentions was 3-4 points.

With one exception: former journalist and hard-right candidate, Eric Zemmour. For Zemmour, who stood for the first time this year, male voting intentions were twice as high as women’s. Mossuz-Lavau explains this as a transfer of votes from male electors who felt obliged to vote for Marine Le Pen in previous elections (as the only far-right candidate) but who happily transferred their support to Zemmour when a choice was made possible between a man or a woman championing the cause. Perhaps in secret agreement with Zemmour’s view that “it’s only when politics has lost all power, and no other presidential candidate is doing well enough, that the presence of a woman in the Elysée becomes a possible, if barely credible, hypothesis” since “women do not symbolize power, and that’s all there is to it. Power disappears as soon as they come on the scene.”[2]

Perhaps those same voters had also been put off by recent efforts to soften Marine le Pen’s image, judged too abrasive, with photos of the candidate with cute cats on Instagram, or talking about the difficulties of single motherhood. On the other hand, Le Pen’s presidential slogan, “Femme d’Etat” (“Stateswoman”), was meant to reassure voters that she was perfectly capable of running the French Republic. Centre-right party candidate Valérie Pécresse followed suit, holding political rallies where she altered her voice to make it deeper and slower. Pointlessly, it would seem: a December 2021 poll showed that 90% of French people had no problem voting for a female candidate as President (unlike Zemmour’s electorate, of whom only 72% could stomach such a result[3]). 

The 2022 election was somewhat of an outlier in terms of the number of female candidates (5) who stood, including for France’s two historically two biggest parties. Previous elections have not been so diverse. The first woman to stand was in 1974, in the form of anti-capitalist candidate Arlette Laguiller. Laguiller went on to run in another six Presidential elections (patiently enduring puzzled questions from journalists about her makeup, or why she did not have children[4]). It was not until 2007 that a female candidate made it through to the second round, in the form of Ségolène Royal (Socialist Party) running against Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP). Highlights from that campaign included the television debate in which Sarkozy chastised Royal with “Please do calm down… to be President, one has to keep one’s calm” when Royal was making a passionate point; and the legendary reaction from Laurent Fabius (a heavyweight in Royal’s own party) to her announcement she was running for President: “but who will look after the children?”[5].

The lack of a gendered vote is not really surprising when we consider that women vote firstly as human beings, not as a homogeneous group; and that presidential elections are rarely fought on the issue of women’s rights. Instead, across typical issues of purchasing power, health or education, both sexes are more likely to vote according to socio-economic determinants or party allegiance. Nor did any of the candidates focus especially on women’s rights during the campaign (apart from Le Pen’s call to ban women from wearing the Muslim headscarf in public spaces, which was judged as mostly opportunistic)[6]. Indeed, of all of the different political manifestos, feminist organization Osez le Féminisme![7] deemed only three as truly feminist (including proposals from Socialist Party candidate Anne Hidalgo). The rest were judged as either “feminist-washing” (including Macron) or actually misogynist (both Le Pen and, no surprises, Zemmour).

From this year’s election, one might conclude that France is a little more representative than other countries when it comes to political parity.  It is true that France now has an almost-healthy 39% of female (lower-chamber) parliamentarians (ranking 17th out of 193 countries[8]); and that local (département or regional) councils have achieved quasi-parity at 50% and 47.9% of female Councillors respectively.  But these impressive statistics have only been made possible through laws imposing quotas at certain levels of political representation which came into force in the last twenty years.  Where no quotas apply, it’s a very different story – for example, only 16% of French Mayors are women, and the Presidents of local Councils are rarely female[9].

So although it is good news that President Macron nominated Elisabeth Borne as Prime Minister last week, we shouldn’t get too carried away. After all, Borne is only the second woman to occupy the role, some thirty years after Edith Cresson. This time round, the fiercest debate appears to be whether a female Prime Minister’s title should or should not be feminized to Première Ministre; and not whether a woman can do the job in the first place. Progress?

Kate Hart

Kate is a gender equality and women’s rights consultant. British by nationality, she lives and works in France. She is passionate about equality in all forms, but especially women’s rights and SRHR, which are so often challenged, ignored, or repressed. When not working Kate tries to be a good mother, writes novels and poetry, and runs workshops on gender stereotypes in schools.     


[1] https://www.publicsenat.fr/article/politique/les-femmes-votent-elles-comme-les-hommes-192749

[2] https://www.franceinter.fr/politique/articles-livres-discours-nous-avons-exhume-25-ans-de-sorties-sexistes-d-eric-zemmour

[3] https://www.ifop.com/publication/la-propension-de-francais-prets-a-voter-pour-une-femme-a-la-prochaine-election-presidentielle/

[4] https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/femmes-puissantes/arlette-laguiller-je-veux-bien-reconnaitre-que-j-ai-mis-un-petit-coup-de-pied-dans-la-fourmiliere 

[5] https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2006/11/15/mm-fabius-et-strauss-kahn-dementent-les-propos-machistes-que-mme-royal-leur-attribue_834611_3224.html

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/17/world/europe/france-islam-le-pen-head-scarf.html

[7] https://osezlefeminisme.fr/feministometre/

[8] https://www.haut-conseil-egalite.gouv.fr/parite/reperes-statistiques/

[9] https://www.haut-conseil-egalite.gouv.fr/parite/reperes-statistiques/

Fast Fashion: The Gendered Dimension

  • May 20th, 2022
  • Blog

Fast Fashion has always been a gendered issue, shaped by a focus on how ‘femininity’ must be presented to please patriarchal, masculine visual appeal. This has caused market factors to bring in ‘new and improved’ products/trends every season, most of which is packaging that goes by marketing and mostly ignoring comfort or functionality. How many of us would fit into the sizes that models get by investing a lot? Don’t most of us have to carry at least a phone, keys, and a wallet, even going by the patriarchal sense of functions?

Much of the discussions about fast fashion tend to focus solely on its environmental and personal consequences. The mainstream consumer is increasingly concerned about the pollution and waste produced by fast fashion, as well as the poor construction of fast fashion goods, which causes them to be short-lived. While significantly harmful, environmental damage and decreased product quality are far from the only negative consequences of this industry.

With the climate crisis escalating and atrocities like global trade exploitation, hazardous working conditions, and sexual abuse at the forefront, it’s critical to shift to more ethical and environmentally safe alternatives; however, expecting people to stop purchasing fast fashion all at once is unrealistic. People prioritize ease of purchase and price of an item over sustainability, according to a 2018 LIM College survey of 685 shoppers ages 18 to 37. The cost of products is a strong contributor to the gendered marginalization of fast fashion.

Given that 80% of garment workers are women, and that they are primarily concentrated in (so-called) ‘developing’ countries due to a lack of labour protections, it stands to reason that disadvantaged women face significant harm as a result of this exploitative industry (Labour Behind the Label). The majority of the textile workers are paid far too little. In reality, the vast majority of them earn less than $3 per day. They frequently do not earn enough money to meet their basic requirements or to support their families.

Fast fashion stores’ low prices come at the expense of poor women’s rights in factories. According to Fair Trade Certified research, factory workers in Bangladesh earn USD 35 per month, while factory workers in Ethiopia earn USD 26 per month, despite the fact that their governments have set minimum wages of USD 95 and USD 110 per month, respectively. To put things in perspective, a major fashion CEO will earn more in four days than a female textile worker in Bangladesh will earn in a lifetime. Some employees are not paid for overtime, sick days, or maternity leaves. If they are discovered to be pregnant, they may potentially be fired.

Zara owner Inditex is the only brand in the supply chain that requires suppliers to pay workers a decent wage. Five other firms – Adidas, H&M, Inditex, Kering, and PVH – are performing wage assessments in factories and supporting industry collaborations to ensure suppliers pay their workers a decent wage. Despite the fact that women make up the majority of the labour in fast fashion, they are underrepresented in senior positions. According to a 2019 PwC report, women account for only 12.5% of clothing CEOs and 26% of board members.

Workers frequently labour long days with limited breaks. Furthermore, some of the industry structures are hazardous. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013 is one well-known example. According to government allegations, the factory’s owner illegally built additional levels in order to hire more workers. Furthermore, when cracks began to emerge in the structure, an expert assessed it and declared it hazardous. Despite these warnings, the building owner called workmen back the next day, the day the building fell. The collapse killed almost 1,000 people, 80% of them were women. While 80% of the organisations make policy pledges, just about a third show they’ve taken the most basic efforts to avoid abuse by offering violence and harassment training to their personnel. This is reflected in the supplier chain, though requirements for violence and harassment training are even rarer.

Climate change, according to Global Citizen research, exacerbates gender inequality by affecting women the most. According to a World Economic Forum analysis, the fashion sector is the second greatest consumer of water resources, accounting for 20% of all industrial water pollution and around 10% of global carbon emissions. Furthermore, women from low-income families in rural communities in developing countries are known to walk many miles every day for water, and to have sanitation and hygiene issues. As a result of the UN Fashion Charter’s launch, we may expect the fashion industry to be more accountable and transparent in its supply chain.

Consumers expect firms to be purpose-driven on climate change, diversity, and inclusion, according to a 2020 survey by McKinsey & Company. Fashion firms must consider their societal impact in addition to delivering current and fashionable goods. While buying ethically produced sustainable apparels might not be economically viable for everyone, thrifting and upcycling can be a basic and important step to start with. ‘Thrifty behaviour’ is anticipated to be a prevalent occurrence post-quarantine due to changes in household earnings, according to a 2020 research by Thred Up, with 4 in 5 citizens willing to buy second-hand clothes. It also points out that, by 2029, recommerce is likely to quadruple in size compared to fast fashion, with recommerce valued at USD 80 billion and fast fashion valued at only USD 43 billion. Women are spearheading the recommerce revolution. In 2018, 56 million women purchased used goods; in 2019, that number grew to 62 million.

In this context, it is therefore crucial to understand that climate justice without social justice is ineffective; they must coexist. Shaming is not and has never been a solution when the goal is to empower everyone to make better choices for people and planet.

Ishita Bagchi

Cultural context of menstrual behaviour: Nuanced insights for Policy Making

  • May 13th, 2022
  • Blog

Menstruation is one of the most important biological functions facilitating reproduction. Despite the scientific and reproductive relevance of menstruation, taboos & peculiar beliefs about it are quite common, nearly universal. In some communities, menstruating women are instructed to sleep in shed outside the home, also referred to as ‘seclusion practice’ by Thapa et, al. and in some other communities, women are instructed to not participate in religious ceremonies, to not enter the kitchen or a place of worship, and to not even serve food to the male members of the family.

One common undercurrent in almost all the taboos & beliefs surrounding menstruation is impurity. Although, it is quite difficult to trace the origins of ‘sense of menstrual impurity[ED1] [po2] [ED3] [Priyanka Ohri], the negative connotation of impurity makes the function of menstruation something to be ashamed of, something that should not be talked about and something that needs to be expelled out of the body before somethings like going into the kitchen can be accomplished.

One such observation was made, while conducting an intensive and immersive research into reproductive health Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour and Practice (KABP[ED4] ) in the Gaddi Tribe (semi-pastoral agricultural community) that resides in the Indian Himalayas. The results of the research revealed that women preferred to keep themselves exceptionally clean during menstruation[ED5] . They understood that they could not go to important places in the house like the kitchen because menstrual blood was dirty. They also highlighted that it was also not advisable for menstruating women to cook and serve food, specifically to the male members of the household[ED6] .

The present research utilized mixed methods to understand the nuances of social dynamics and cultural beliefs surrounding reproductive health. The in-depth conversations with the community were instrumental in revealing the extent of influence of cultural knowledge. It revealed that the cultural knowledge is symbolic of their cultural heritage and maintains their distinct identity as a community. The community also likes to maintain a cultural continuity by passing this information from generation to generation. The presence of cultural knowledge was also found to be a reason behind many menstrual behaviours.

A woman respondent, age 35, from village Panjsei in Bharmour [Chamba District, Himachal Pradesh, India] explained that she felt dirty going to the temple and she did not serve food to her husband because of his participation in religious affairs. These instructions were not only passed down by generations of women before her but were also learnt by observing other women in her household. However, for women, it was the menstrual blood, that was dirty and not the menstrual function or the women. As another woman respondent, age 27, village Garola, Holi in Bharmour explained that for her it was extremely important to follow the family traditions and other female members of the family help her during menstruation. During menstruation, her body becomes dirty, which consequently needs to be cleaned. However, when probed for further clarification, she elaborated that it was her body that temporarily became dirty and not her as a human being.  

A Different Perspective

At first, from a narrow lens, I understood that it was unfortunate for women. Not being able to participate in kitchen affairs, and not being able to serve food to the male members was restrictive. For me, it clearly meant hierarchical value of men over women. However, this perspective does not take into consideration other aspects that there might be. [ED7] 

The more[ED8]  women (across ages) I spoke to, the more I understood that within their specific socio-cultural context, restriction over entering kitchen, cooking, and serving food had many layers to unravel. Not being able to cook, meant a few days of rest from kitchen duties. As Anna Duret points out, some menstrual traditions facilitate female autonomy and provide relief from work. Further, it is quite clear that Gaddi women’s day-to-day interactions during menstruation are influenced by the cultural knowledge. This generational knowledge has taken the form of a belief and socio-cultural norms which has been woven into the unquestionable narrative of Gaddi life. The present generation and the generations before them have co-created the context [menstrual blood is dirty] in which menstrual behaviour [not entering the kitchen until clean] takes place. To put it simply, Gaddi community has a shared understanding about the socio-cultural norms of menstruation. This in turn has created a menstrual Gaddi subculture within a larger culture. It challenged my existing perspective and forced me to create a space in my understanding about the way people lived their life and continue to do so.

Yet, at the same time the restrictive and exclusion dimensions of such beliefs & behaviours, perpetuating gender inequalities cannot be ignored[ED9] . In fact, there are some communities in the world where menstrual traditions take on extreme form e.g. in Nepal where menstruating women are isolated for four days. So, when I attempt at providing a different perspective on norms & traditions with inherent inequalities, I know, I walk a tight rope.

Despite the universal menstrual beliefs or taboos, there are two things that can be seen from the menstrual subculture/s. First, every belief, leading to the behaviour has two sides. Secondly, exploring socio-cultural norms play a vital role in understanding the context within which these behaviours occur. For example, in this case, in the Gaddi community, relief from work and gender inequality within a larger social system are the two sides of the same coin. However, within their specific context, the community does not perceive the behavior as perpetuating inequality [hindering their rights] in any way. In fact, a specific behaviour is an expectation from them. Moreover, women and other household members have tried to eliminate the rigidity around the behaviour by incorporating taking a bath before doing anything important. Consequently, it only makes sense to keep in mind this menstrual subculture while formulating reproductive health policies.

Insights for Health Policy: A Way Forward

The positive aspects of beliefs and norms in sync with the health mandate of menstrual hygiene can inform health policy. It can be a starting point for a dialogue to consider the cultural beliefs and the context of these beliefs The policy makers can invest more time, effort, and money to conduct more narrative based research. It can be done in conjunction with the health outcomes research, which can facilitate the understanding of cultural context of specific behaviours within specific communities. The willingness to discuss their cultural beliefs and know the context is vital for people [beneficiaries of the policy] to be able to trust new policies. It shows them that their culture is respected. The idea of respecting specific cultures, while designing policies also improves access to health care services. An element of cultural sensitivity in the policies is vital not only for patients in culturally diverse settings, but also for patients in geographically and socio-culturally close-knit communities. In fact, more so for the latter. As living in close-knit communities can make it easy for them to dismiss the policy interventions. In case, majority of people in their community affirm the cultural insensitivity. It has been observed that healthcare services, which are safe for the culture are more acceptable to the community members.

So, while paying attention to the menstrual subcultures of specific communities, policy makers would have insight into positive health behaviours which already exist. At the same time, they would also understand those foundational beliefs, which are not conducive for positive health outcomes or restrict people’s access to quality healthcare services or perpetuate inequities. Now, with insights and evidence-based information/data, specific strategies can be formulated aiming for change in those negative health behaviours which are not good for health and gender outcomes in the long run.

The most important thing here is the dialogue between policy makers and grassroots community members of all genders in their own settings. I say all genders because specific behaviours are performed within a larger context with the validation of other gender/s as well. Hence, despite the silence around menstruation, menstrual behaviours cannot be understood in isolation. This can only happen with more grassroots evidence-based research conducted by culturally sensitive researchers. So, there is need to invest more time and money not only in conducting advanced research, but also to train the researchers. Further, cultural sensitivity which will be learnt through dialogues, trainings, and research can also be taught to the healthcare providers like doctors and nurses [creating wholistic policies]. It can help in creating cultural competent and sensitive healthcare providers, which will in turn improve access to the healthcare services.

Priyanka Ohri

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

GenPol for CODE

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If you would like to find out more about our research, advocacy and consultancy work, we warmly invite you to get in touch. We are not advertising for vacancies at the moment. Please note that we may not able to respond to unsolicited applications.

Contact Info

Gender & Policy Insights (10783588)
Registered address: 11 Peterhouse Mews
High Street Chesterton
CB4 1UW Cambridge
United Kingdom

GenPol is also a registered Italian charity (1269/3)
GenPol e' un'associazione culturale registrata
Registered address: via Schipa 91
80122 Naples
Italy