Equal rights for women: Lessons from Rwanda

by Kari Lindberg

Musanze, Rwanda – a woman in bright colored dress is carrying a load of poles on her head while walking barefoot on a dirt road just after a rainshower. In the background a man working his field of cabbages.

Rwanda, Namibia, and Burundi are respectively ranked fifth, twelfth, and fourteenth on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2016. All have ratified their equivalent of an Equal Rights Amendment into their respective constitution equivalents, unlike the United States, which has not and ranks 45th. In these sub-Saharan countries, especially Rwanda, ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment has provided a legal framework and support to lessen the gender gaps. The legal framework of Rwanda and its social and cultural norms, which at times impede the enforcement of gender equal laws, lay a lesson for the U.S., should gender equality become a legislative priority.

After the 1994 Rwandan genocide ended, 70 percent of the country was female, leaving the job of rebuilding the country’s now-destroyed social, economic, and political institutions in the hands of women—a complete shift, especially for the previously traditional patriarchal society. Given the role of women in the country’s reconstruction period, the Rwandan government established gender equality as a legal framework with the 2003 adoption of Article 9 in the Rwandan Constitution, which guarantees equal gender rights and requires women to be granted “at least thirty percent (30%) of posts in decision-making organs.”

“A legal guarantee of equal rights ensured that the government allocates resources to ensure that gender promotion is not just in theory but also in practice. Women and men in Rwanda have equal rights on all matters,” said Olive Uwamariya, Rwandan gender activist with Care International. Following the adoption of Article 9, Rwanda became the first country in the world with a female majority parliament in 2008, expanding the lead to 64 percent during the 2013 elections. Educational enrollment rate at the elementary school level has more than doubled, several initiatives targeting gender-based violence have been implemented—specifically, the 2010-launched One Stop Centres, where gender-based violence survivors can get immediate help—and the judiciary actively reduces laws that perpetuate gender-based violence.

In contrast, the United States, which has federal, state, and local legislation that supports women’s equality—notably the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act—does not have the Equal Rights Amendment ratified and added to the U.S. Constitution. Currently, on the federal level the government is 19 percent women, one of the world’s lowest percentages of female participation in civil service.

According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. has a 56 percent rate of female labor force participation. At 86 percent, Rwanda has one of the highest rates of female labor force participation. Greater labor participation also led to a narrower wage gap; in Rwanda, women earn 88 cents for every dollar men do, whereas in the U.S., the ratio is 83 cents. Individual finances aside, Rwandan women now benefit under law from three months of paid maternity leave, making it easier for women to rejoin the labor market while having a family. The United States is still the only developed country to not mandate paid maternity leave. Many Rwandan experts accredit the pro-women laws with the constitutional framework that guarantees legal gender rights and enforces parliamentary quotas for women.

We news for more

Comments are closed.