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«2008 Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda Jennie E. Burnet Georgia State University, jburnet Follow ...»

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Georgia State University

ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University

Anthropology Faculty Publications Department of Anthropology


Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in

Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Jennie E. Burnet

Georgia State University, jburnet@gsu.edu

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Recommended Citation

Burnet, Jennie E., "Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda" (2008). Anthropology Faculty Publications. Paper 5.

http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/anthro_facpub/5 This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Department of Anthropology at ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Anthropology Faculty Publications by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University. For more information, please contact scholarworks@gsu.edu.





Across Africa, many countries have taken initiatives to increase the participation and representation of women in governance. Yet it is unclear what meaning these initiatives have in authoritarian, single-party states like Rwanda. Since seizing power in 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front has taken many steps to increase the participation of women in politics such as creating a Ministry of Gender, organizing women’s councils at all levels of government, and instituting an electoral system with reserved seats for women in the national parliament. This article explores the dramatic increase in women’s participation in public life and representation in governance and the increasing authoritarianism of the Rwandan state under the guise of ‘democratization.’ The increased political participation of women in Rwanda represents a paradox in the short-term: as their participation has increased, women’s ability to influence policy-making has decreased. In the long-term, however, increased female representation in government could prepare the path for their meaningful participation in a genuine democracy because of a transformation in political subjectivity. The lasting repercussions of the 1994 genocide, the material realities of life in post-genocide Rwanda, and the greater representation of females in public life and political office have promoted a great deal of change in cultural and social conceptions of gender roles. With these changes has come a greater acceptance of women in positions of authority and of women as independent agents in the public sphere. This transformation in political subjectivity could prepare women to take a meaningful role in government should a real transition to democracy take place in Rwanda.

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Just nine years after a genocide in which at least 500,000 Rwandans, primarily Tutsi as well as politically-moderate Hutu, lost their lives, Rwandans went to the polls to elect a national parliament.1 In September 2003, the population elected 39 women to the 80 member Chamber of Deputies through a tiered electoral system. Rwanda replaced Sweden as the country with the Jennie E. Burnet (j.burnet@louisville.edu) is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Louisville (USA). She has been conducting research on gender, ethnicity, and reconciliation in Rwanda since 1996. This is a much revised version of a paper presented in October 2006 at a conference on ‘Gender and democratization in societies at war’ at Colgate University. The author wishes to thank the participants in the conference, notably Maureen Hays-Mitchell and Jill Irvine, for their feedback and comments. In addition, the thoughtful and insightful feedback from the anonymous reviewers and editors of African Affairs has been indispensable in improving the article and honing the argument. The author would like to acknowledge financial support from the University of Louisville, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the United States Institute for Peace, the United States Department of Education, and the Institute for the Study of World Politics of the Fund for Peace.

1 Estimates of how many people died in the 1994 genocide vary widely. While how many died is irrelevant to whether or not the killings in Rwanda in 1994 were genocide, the issue is highly politicized so it is necessary to indicate the sources. The number I use here comes from Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (Human Rights Watch, New York, NY, 1999), p. 15. For more on the numbers of dead see Scott Straus’s analysis in Scott Straus, The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 2006), pp. 41-64.

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the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the Minister of Gender and Women in Development, representatives of international NGOs and the United Nations, heralded the representation of women in the Rwandan parliament as the dawn of a new, more ‘peaceful,’ and ‘equitable’ age in Rwandan politics.3 In the past 10 years, women’s participation in governance across the continent has increased dramatically. Several countries, including Rwanda, Uganda, Namibia, and South Africa, have instituted reserved seats for women or quota systems to insure the Gretchen Bauer and Hannah Evelyn Britton, ‘Women in African Parliaments: A Continental Shift?,’ in Hannah 2 Evelyn Britton and Gretchen Bauer (eds), Women in African Parliaments (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 2006), p. 1. Since the parliamentary elections in 2003, the Rwandan Parliament has had the highest percentage of female representation in the world, ranging from 48.8 percent in 2003 to 42.3 percent in September 2006. The 2003 statistics are reported in Timothy Longman, ‘Rwanda: Achieving Equality or Serving an Authoritarian State?’, in Hannah Evelyn Britton and Gretchen Bauer (eds), Women in African Parliaments, (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 2006), p. 144, and they are widely cited by the Rwandan government in speeches and press conferences. The 2006 statistics are based on the author’s analysis of the Rwandan National Parliament membership list published on its website http://www.rwandaparliament.gov.rw/ (25 September 2006).

Longman, ‘Rwanda: Achieving Equality’, p. 133. For example, see Elizabeth Powley, ‘Strengthening 3 Governance: The Role of Women in Rwanda's Transition’, (report, Women Waging Peace / Hunt Alternatives Fund, Cambridge, MA, 2003), available at http://www.huntalternatives.org/download/10_strengthening_governance_the_role_of_women_in_rwanda_s_transi tion.pdf, (21 January 2008), and see ‘Address by her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the official opening of the Women Parliamentarians International Conference,’ (UNDP-Rwanda website, Kigali, Rwanda, 23 February 2007) available at http://www.unrwanda.org/undp/Women_conf_Speeches_23-02-2007.pdf, (9 August 2007)..

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impact of women’s increased representation.4 In this article, I explore two divergent, yet related phenomena in Rwanda. The first is the dramatic increase in women’s participation in public life and governance. Since taking power in 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the Rwandan government have taken many steps to increase the participation of women in politics, creating a Ministry of Gender, organizing women’s councils at the cell, sector, district and provincial levels, and instituting an electoral 4 See for example, Hannah Evelyn Britton and Gretchen Bauer, Women in African Parliaments (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 2006); Hannah Evelyn Britton, Women in the South African Parliament : From Resistance to Governance (University of Illinois Press, Urbana, IL, 2005); Anne Marie Goetz and Shireen Hassim, No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making (Zed Books, Cape Town, South Africa, 2003);

Aili Mari Tripp, ‘Expanding “Civil Society”: Women and Political Space in Contemporary Uganda,” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 36, 2 (1998), pp. 84-107; Aili Mari Tripp, ‘Gender, Political Participation and the Transformation of Associational Life in Uganda and Tanzania,’ African Studies Review 37, 1 (1994), pp.

107-131; Ali Mari Tripp, ‘The Politics of Autonomy and Cooperation in Africa: The Case of the Ugandan Women's Movement,’ Journal of Modern African Studies 39, 1 (2001), pp. 101-28; Aili Tripp, Dior Konate, and Colleen Lowe-Morna, ‘Sub-Saharan Africa: On the Fast Track to Women's Political Representation,’ in Drude Dahlerup (ed.), Women, Quotas and Politics, (Routledge, London, 2006), pp. 112-37; Aili Mari Tripp, Women & Politics in Uganda (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 2000); Aili Mari Tripp, ‘Women in Movement Transformations in African Political Landscapes,’ International Feminist Journal of Politics 5, 2 (2003), pp. 233-55;

Drude Dahlerup, Women, Quotas and Politics, (Routledge, London, 2006); Aili Mari Tripp, ‘Women's Movements and Challenges to Neopatrimonial Rule: Preliminary Observations from Africa,’ Development & Change 32, 1 (2001), pp. 33-54; Sylvia Tamale, When Hens Begin to Crow : Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda (Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1999).

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participation in post-genocide Rwanda tend to assume that increased participation by women will lead to greater gender equality and a ‘better,’ more peaceful society, yet these changes have not necessarily increased the political power of women or led to more egalitarian notions of citizenship. The second phenomenon I will explore is the ways in which the Rwandan state has become increasingly authoritarian under the guise of ‘democratization.’ As a result of this

increasing authoritarianism, female political participation represents a paradox in the short-term:

as their participation has increased, women’s ability to influence policy-making has decreased. In the long-term, however, the increased participation of women could prepare the path for their meaningful participation in a genuine democracy. This article is based on ethnographic research conducted in urban and rural Rwanda between 1997 and 2007, including over a hundred interviews with the leaders and members of women’s civil society organizations, as well as ongoing documentary research conducted since 1996.6 5 The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is the current ruling party in Rwanda. Founded in Uganda in the late 1980s, the RPF grew out of earlier organizations of Tutsi exiles (such as the UNAR) whose intent was to return to Rwanda through armed resistance. The RPF ended the genocide in July 1994 by taking control of the country.

6 The research was conducted over a series of field trips to Rwanda. Data were gathered through focus groups, formal interviews, conversations, questionnaires, participant observation, and documentary research among other means. In 1997 and 1998, the author made brief field trips (4 months and 3 months). In 1999 through 2001, the author conducted ethnographic research via participant observation in a rural community in southern Rwanda for 12 months and in a middle class neighbourhood in the capital city for 12 months. During that time, she made numerous trips to other regions of the country to conduct additional interviews and gather data. In 2002, she made two trips to Rwanda of six weeks each, and in 2003 a trip of two weeks. In 2007, she spent 4 weeks in Rwanda conducting

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called ‘democratization’ in Rwanda is predicated on a linear transition paradigm where authoritarianism gives way to democracy, human rights abuses to the rule of law, and corruption to good governance.7 According to this paradigm, the democratic transition process passes through a series of distinct stages: opening, breakthrough and consolidation.8 In diplomatic and development circles, and particularly US foreign policy, elections are the fundamental component of democratic transition, often to the exclusion of other important aspects of democracy defined in political theory. Under this paradigm, Rwanda’s transition started well before the 1994 genocide with a political opening in 1989.

In 1989, several political parties, which had been dormant under the single-party state and dictatorship of President Habyarimana, re-emerged and began demanding political liberalisation. Along with a few civil society organizations that were also pushing for change, their pleas coincided with increasing pressure in the international community for authoritarian states to democratize. In many cases, this pressure tied political reforms to aid money, a particularly sensitive issue for the Rwandan government, as the country was almost entirely interviews and focus groups with women’s organizations, women members of government, and women leaders of civil society organizations.

Filip Reyntjens, ‘Post-1994 Politics in Rwanda: Problematising “Liberation” and “Democratisation” ’, Third World 7 Quarterly 27, 6 (2006), pp. 1103-17. See also Thomas Carothers, ‘The End of the Transition Paradigm,’ Journal of Democracy 13, 1 (2002), pp. 5-21.

Alicia Phillips Mandaville and Peter P. Mandaville, ‘Introduction: Rethinking Democratization and Democracy 8 Assistance,’ Development 50. 1 (2007), pp 5-13.

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publication of a memorandum, ‘For multiparty politics and democracy’.9 On 1 October 1990 the country entered a civil war when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) attacked Rwanda, and the civil war strongly influenced the political transition. Founded in Uganda in the late 1980s, the RPF’s stated intention was to liberate the country from President Habyarimana’s dictatorship. The civil war continued throughout the early 1990s until Habyarimana, facing dramatic losses as well as continued pressure from donors, was forced to the negotiating table. The 1993 Arusha Peace Accords brought an official end to hostilities and outlined a transition plan to move the country to multiparty politics and democratic elections.

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