Saturday, September 20, 2008



September 20, 2008
The Standard
Nairobi, Kenya

For a continent derisively laughed at by the West and given such names as a mere geographical expression, it was a public relations coup.

For a bloc whose story — as bandied around by Western media — is grinding war, famine and pestilence, it injected succour into the African heart.

For a continent afflicted by HIV/Aids, bogged down by corrupt, ruinous and kleptocratic regimes, and decades of Western exploitation through colonial rule, it was the opening of a new chapter.

The BBC chose the headline, which though near-sexist, is enthralling and pays tribute to the achievement that stole the attention of the world this week: Women to rule Rwanda Parliament.

The story was about Rwanda’s walk into the annals of history as the first country in the world where women outnumber men in Parliament. Preliminary results showed this week women had walked away with 44 of 80 seats.

The numbers were expected to rise were the three seats set aside for the youth and the disabled to go to the gender under-represented throughout history.

In Kenya, which unlike Rwanda whose post-genocide constitution guarantees a 30 per cent quota for women MPs, there are only 20 female MPs in the 222-member chamber. Worse still, none of political parties lived up to its pre-election promise to give the special nomination slots to representatives of minority groups, such as the disabled.

It is important to note that it is the second round of parliamentary elections for post-genocide Rwanda, which in 1994 saw the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus.

There are those who argue the bitter experience of the war, and anger against the perpetrators of genocide — who were largely men — smoothened the way for more women representatives in Parliament.


If it were that kind of reaction, following our bloodletting in post-election clashes, we would say there would be more women MPs in the 11th Parliament.

The sad thing is that this is just a pipedream, for we are mired up in prejudices against women — they exhale and excel outside the political orbit.

Worst of all, women themselves are caught up in this web, and some would rather vote for male candidates.

All, however, is not lost given the changing trends, albeit painfully slow.

The reality is that like Rwanda, we must work for it, taking deliberate steps to ensure that gender balance is reflected in the country’s highest decision-making body.

This is how one Rwandese described the tidal wave sweeping through his country: "You see men, especially in our culture, used to think that women are there to be in the house, cook food, look after the children. . . but the real problems of a family are known by a woman and when they do it, they help a country to get much better."

It is tragic that 13 years after the much-hyped Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, and which we participated fully, we have not even attained a two-digit representation in percentage points for women.

Then, China’s conference called for at least 30 per cent representation by women in national governments.

Even as Africa gives Rwanda a standing ovation, her exploits on this front is a backhanded slap on our face because of our dubious record.

It is also a wake-up call that we too can attain the feat. But we must plan and work for it.