The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: African Women Lawmakers Want Higher Representation

African women lawmakers on Wednesday robustly pushed for strategies that will see more women supported to assume leadership roles on the continent.

They also hailed Rwanda for being an African "miracle" and exemplary in promoting women representation in many spheres of leadership and decision making, especially in Parliament where women claim a world record majority (56 per cent) including the Speaker.

This was during a special session of the African Parliamentary Union (APU) Committee of Women Parliamentarians in Kigali held under the theme: implementing strategies to support women candidates for legislative and local elections.

Chairing the session, the Vice President of the Parliament of Equatorial Guinea, Engono Nchama Jesus Obono, said: "We have to fight relentlessly for a greater representation of women in parliament as well as other elected assemblies."

She added: "The example of Rwanda [having a woman Speaker] should inspire us. This same example is valid for Zimbabwe with a woman President of the Senate, present here with us, and Vice President of the Executive Committee of the APU," she added, while also calling for the need for "impartial media coverage of women in elections."

Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Rose Mukantabana, said women represent more than half the population on the continent and beyond but "because of cultural beliefs and other stereotypes", they play a limited role in public affairs besides being denied their fundamental rights as human beings.

"Today, although a lot has been achieved in promoting gender equality, there are still struggles to achieve tangible results. In different countries, it remains a big issue to address but with commitment and courage, we can challenge the existing norms and rules," Mukantabana said.

"We can make the status of women better than it is today. Let us continue to work together. Let us build networks, partnerships and alliances. Let us communicate properly and learn from one another for the benefit of our citizens of Africa and particularly women and children."

A programme specialist from UN Women-Rwanda, Donah Gasana, told the session that her organisation has observed that one of the hindrances to women participation, globally, are laws that are insensitive enough to allow women to participate, and pressed for a strategy that embraces legal reforms, among others.

She said: "This strategy of reforming the laws will increase women's participation both in parliamentary and local elections. According to the 2011/2012 UN world women report, we have registered tremendous improvement in legislative reforms but even with that, we see that we still have a lot of challenges."

"In the last 30 years, we have witnessed a growth in the constitutions that are gender sensitive. Globally, 139 constitutions include guarantees for gender equality, 125 countries outlaw domestic violence, at least 117 countries have equal payrolls, 173 countries guarantee paid maternity leave, and 117 outlaw sexual harassment in public work places," she said, adding that in 115 others, there are equal rights to own property and that 93 constitutions allow equal inheritance rights with men.

The UN Women-Rwanda official explained that despite the progress, however, in many contexts, the legal framework remains fundamentally biased against women.

She said that in some cases, laws simply discriminate against women.

"In many other countries, laws are based on male standards of democracy that assume that men and women confront issues of elections on equal footing, which they rarely do. Consequently, even laws that are on paper are gender neutral and they can have a biased impact on women."

Gasana said that based on this analysis, even though many reforms have been made, legal reform alone is not sufficient enough to increase women participation.

Gasana also called for a visionary agenda for the legal and political reform at all levels, and "based on the principle of substantive equality" and need for uprooting electoral violence that targets women.

Expounding on the Rwandan perspective, Sheikh Saleh Habimana, from the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), told the session that among other things, political will and the highest level of commitment from the top leadership have impacted much on Rwanda's exemplary achievement in the gender equality area.

At the end of the session, the Vice President of the Equatorial Guinea Parliament, Obono, was elected President of the APU Women Executive Committee while Rwanda's MP Yvonne Uwayisenga was elected Vice President.

Uwayisenga was previously the Rapporteur.

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