Sunday, March 4, 2007

Women in Parliaments

Rwanda hosted the Kigali Conference of Women Parliamentarians last week, with appearances by such political luminaries as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (the first female president of an African country) and the aim of producing practical policy recommendations on gender and nation-building. The conference drew attention to Rwanda’s efforts to increase women’s participation in governance since the 1994 genocide – efforts that have left it with the second highest percentage of women in its parliament (and the highest percentage in its lower house) in the world. For one thing, Rwanda’s constitution sets aside 30% of its seats in parliament for women. But the quota doesn’t tell the whole story: women now occupy not a bare 30%, but 45% of the parliament. (In contrast, the United States comes in 67th in the world, with 16% women in Congress.) Some argue that quotas help “kick-start” women’s participation in politics, while others point to the high percentage of women in the post-genocide population and to women’s awakening to a need to play leadership roles to transform their society. Since 1994, Rwanda has adopted a number of policies increasing protections for women, including passing a 2006 bill addressing gender-based violence. If last week’s Conference raises awareness of Rwanda’s successes in promoting women’s participation and encourages other parliaments to adopt better practices, it can be fairly deemed a success.

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