Ideas, Stories, and Profiles

Rwanda has the largest share of female parliamentarians of any country in the world. But things in Rwanda seldom sit still, and it is time to start going faster and further.

Since 2003 the constitution has reserved thirty percent of seats for women. Today sixty-seven percent of parliamentarians and fifty percent of the cabinet are women.

But Rwanda’s impressive female representation in national politics is not yet replicated at the local level. Only eight of the thirty district mayors in Rwanda (twenty-seven percent) are women, and just thirteen percent of village leaders are women. In addition, even in central government, below the top cabinet level where gender equality has been achieved, women are less likely than men to hold senior civil service positions. And this matters for women. By mandating larger quotas for women in these positions, Rwanda could make further gains.

Research on the effect of quotas for women has shown a wide range of benefits. In India, for example, one third of village leader positions have been reserved for women since the nineteen-nineties. A slew of research shows that when women run village councils, it encourages women to get involved in local governance, and makes women more likely to get jobs. Female leaders spend money differently and are more likely to respond to women’s concerns (such as a higher preference for clean water). Children in villages with women leaders are better nourished and do better in school. In Sweden, a study found that quotas for women led to the “resignation of mediocre male leaders”.

These potential gains are highly relevant for Rwanda. Women in Rwanda are less likely to work than men, less likely to hold managerial positions, earn less than men, are more likely to live in poverty, and have less decision-making power in the household. Over twenty percent of women in Rwanda have experienced sexual violence. Child malnutrition is also a big issue — thirty-eight percent of children remain malnourished. More female leaders at all levels could help to address all of these issues.

District offices (headed by District Mayors) are responsible for annual government spending of around four hundred billion Rwandan francs, or fifteen percent of the entire national budget. More women Mayors would have different priorities and approaches to their male counterparts. Village leaders are the face of government to most Rwandans, being the closest and most direct touchpoint interaction with government. Village leaders run the monthly Umuganda community work mornings, and brief communities on government programmes. Whilst a 2010 law reserves thirty percent of local council member positions for women, this has not translated into equal representation of council leaders. Again, mandating more local leadership positions for women could help to improve governance and accelerate Rwanda’s transformation.

Here’s a policy change that would cost nothing, could be implemented overnight, and that could make a meaningful contribution to Rwanda’s ambitious development goals. Rwanda is already a real global leader in women’s political participation, but that is no reason for complacency, and no reason not to do more. Put more women in charge!

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