Rwanda held its Presidential elections on 4th August 2017 and Paul Kagame won the elections for a third consecutive term.
A referendum which took place in 2015 approved constitutional amendments that allowed incumbent President Paul Kagame to run for a third term in office in 2017, as well as shortening presidential terms from seven to five years, although the latter change would not come into effect until 2024.
The Rwandan Parliament is bicameral and the President of is elected in one round of voting by plurality. Then, the 80 members of the Chamber of Deputies consisted of 53 directly elected members elected by proportional representation in a single nationwide constituency, 24 women elected by electoral colleges formed in the provinces and three members elected by mini-committees, two representing youth and one representing disabled people.
During the 2017 elections, the only prospective woman candidate was Diane Rwigara, a women’s rights activist, who had decided to fight the presidential election was soon disqualified after her announcement. Close to 7 million people took part in the election this year, with 45% of them being young people.
Women’s Political Participation
Rwanda is one of the leading examples in Africa for gender-inclusive politics, with the highest number of female Parliamentarians in the world. In 2013, the country won the international ‘Women in Parliament’ award for its work promoting women’s political empowerment.
The numbers have certainly been telling of a positive story: Rwanda leads the global field with 64% (in terms of female political representatives post 2013 parliamentary elections), compared with a global average of 23%, its Chamber of Deputies is one of only two chambers worldwide in which women outnumber men (for instance, it has 24 reserved seats for women); 7 out of 14 judges in the supreme court are women; women’s councils exist at the cell, sector, district and provincial level; and above all, the 2003 constitution guarantees that women should occupy 30% of all governmental ‘decision-making bodies’, although mechanisms for securing these figures outside the lower chamber of parliament are not spelled out in the text. In addition there is the Gender Monitoring Office (GMO), which is a governmental body that monitors, advises and advocates for gender equality in all institutions in the country.
This spurt is not accidental, there is a historical context in which one must view and place this evolution. Women have been playing an important role in nation building since 2003 post-genocide period. Accordingly, the recent disqualification of the only woman candidate and similar protests from the opposition and other rights groups does make a case for concern.
Rwanda ratified the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1981 without reservations and the Maputo Protocol in 2004. In April 2009 Rwanda promulgated the Law on the Prevention, Protection, and Punishment of Any Gender-Based Violence, the country’s first comprehensive legislation on violence against women. This bill addresses spousal violence, marital rape, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse of children in its definition of gender-based violence, and lists the occurrence of such violence as grounds for divorce. Furthermore, the 2005 Organic Land Law formally abolished customary law where it governed land rights and women can be involved in the coordination and registration process.
It is encouraging to see that Rwanda has been at the forefront of promoting women’s political representation and empowerment. However, full details of female political participation in the recent elections are still awaited and it remains to be seen if there has been any change in the numbers.