We always talk about the fact that in order to really change attitudes and behavior towards women and to correct gender inequity in Congo, there need to be women leaders. It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but as we know, this is far from an obvious truth in many countries around the world (including ours).
Today, I learned that for all of the challenges facing democracy and governance in Rwanda, it is at the same time a hopeful example of women’s access to leadership. Currently, Rwandan women hold over 50 percent of the positions in government. There are few jobs or professions in which a woman cannot be found.
Much of the shift allowing women access to positions of power came as a result of the devastating genocide. The Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 to 1 million civilians were killed in 100 days, took a severe toll on the male population. Women simply had to step up to help run the country—serving in proportions well beyond the 30 percent quota for women reserved in the Rwandan constitution.
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As a result, there is much greater equity between the sexes in Rwanda than what we have observed elsewhere. Unlike in Congo, where women’s rights are enshrined in the constitution but left almost totally ignored, in Rwanda equal rights seem not only enforced, but encouraged.
In the past, for example, women could not inherit money from their fathers. Today, it is mandated that the boys and girls in a family share equally in any family inheritance. Women can own property. Girls and boys are equally educated.
There are, of course, serious concerns about Rwanda’s governance structure, both in regards to the levels of real democratic access for its own citizenry and with respect to Rwanda’s culpability in the atrocities being committed across its borders in Congo. There is, still, an instructive lesson here for how to shift cultural perceptions of women.
No country will ever reach its full potential without the participation of both halves of its population, and women will never be granted their due until there are women in positions that can impact real change in society. It is hard to keep women down when women are represented equally—or in the majority—of public office. And Congo needn’t worry. There’s a whole generation of incredible women just aching to step into those roles.
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Photo of Rwanda’s flag courtesy of Flickr user Hjalmar Gislason licensed under Creative Commons 2.0