Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women's Political Representation in Post-Conflict Rwanda: A Politics of Inclusion or Exclusion?

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women's Political Representation in Post-Conflict Rwanda: A Politics of Inclusion or Exclusion?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Though references abound to Rwandan women holding the world's highest percentage of parliamentary representation at 56%, what is rarely addressed is the confluence of two opposing trends in Rwanda's post-conflict environment: that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)-led government has advocated for women's greater political inclusion under the premise that women will 'better' the political climate, while simultaneously excluding any form of political dissent or ethnic identification. This article ventures into uncharted territory by asking two questions: first, does the discourse surrounding the Government of National Unity's (GNU) campaign to increase women's participation in formal politics uncritically assume that women parliamentarians will have a different relationship to politics, paring women representatives' identities down to non-ethnic female subjects, seen only as promoting peaceful reconciliation? Secondly, given what external actors increasingly term an 'authoritarian state' that lacks political space, does the notion that women will change the political climate have any substantive meaning in post-genocidal Rwanda? The answers to such queries show that viewing the Rwandan case with a critical and gendered lens generates deeper meaning for how women political representatives' identities can be dangerously frozen and 'subjectified' in post-conflict contexts; particularly those intent on building 'national unity' by way of quieting dissent.

Keywords. Rwanda, women's political representation, post-conflict, genocide intersectionality

Introduction

One need not look further than recent news headlines regarding the status of women in Rwanda to note the international community's proclamation of the nation as a 'beacon of hope' for gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa. (2) Such reports range from claims that women in post-conflict Rwanda are now the most politically represented women on the planet, holding the world's highest percentage of female parliamentarians at 56%, (3) to assertions that Rwandan women are now leading the rehabilitation of a nation left in tatters after 1994's horrific genocide. What is rarely addressed, however, is the strange confluence of two opposing trends in Rwanda's post-conflict environment: that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)-led government has advocated for women's greater political inclusion under the premise that women will 'better' the political climate, while simultaneously excluding any form of political dissent or ethnic identification.

This article therefore ventures into uncharted territory by asking two questions: First, does the discourse surrounding the Government of National Unity's (GNU) campaign to increase women's participation in formal politics uncritically assume that women parliamentarians will have a different relationship to politics? If so, to what extent does the Rwandan government pare women representatives' identities down to non-ethnic female subjects, seen only as promoting peaceful reconciliation? Secondly, given what external actors increasingly term an authoritarian state, does the notion that women will change the political climate have any substantive meaning in post-genocidal Rwanda? If there indeed is a lack of political space in Rwanda today, how does one examine the claim made by one unnamed Rwandese civil servant that "[the RPF] puts women in the National Assembly because they know they [the women] will not challenge them?" (4)

The answers to such queries show that viewing the Rwandan case with a critical and gendered lens generates deeper meaning for how women political representatives' identities can be dangerously frozen and 'subjectified' (5) in post-conflict contexts; especially those intent on building 'national unity' by way of quieting dissent.

Part I: The 'New Politically Represented Woman' as 'Subject' in Post-Genocide Rwanda

   Women look out for their interests and those of their children;
   they have a vested interest in peace . … 
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