Taking Cues from Rwanda’s Government Could Reap Benefits For American Women

In one of her few recent public speeches, Hillary Clinton unveiled her “No Ceilings” Report at the United Nations in New York City. The report gives information concerning the changes in gender statistics since 1995, covering health, education, economy leadership and even communication.

Jena McGregor notes in the Washington Post that, “Predictably–and understandably—[the report] says the change in the area of women’s leadership has been far too slow.” And she is correct. After looking at the report, it’s clear that although many things have obviously changed for the better, like healthcare (for example the maternal mortality rate has decreased by forty-two percent since 1995) and education (now seventy-one percent of women are guaranteed primary education), the changes in women’s economics and leadership positions have been marginal at best. McGregor writes, “Among large U.S. companies, growth of female directors has edged up from 14 percent in 2006 to just 19 percent this year”. In fact, the report reveals that the gender gap in workforce participation hasn’t changed in twenty years. It may have even declined in the past ten years.

This overall narrative is discouraging, but there are remarkable points of growth in countries like Rwanda, Bolivia and Angora, who have increased the number of women in legislature where others including the United States have stalled. Increased government participation by women reflects an overall climate of women in leadership. While the global rate of women in legislature is only a little over 20%, women in Rwanda make up 64% in parliament – making it the only government in the world with a female majority. This is extraordinary! Especially considering that economics teaches us that, in general, developing countries are far behind their more developed counterparts when it comes to gender equality, under the premise that a rising tide will lift all boats.

Rwanda's parliament

However, while this is definitely a positive development and Rwanda’s strides in gender equality in government is an example to be followed, their divergence from the norm can be attributed to the Rwandan Genocide twenty years ago. In a National Geographic article, “Women in Post-genocide Rwanda Have Helped Heal Their Country,” Hunt and Heaton explain, “credit for pushing the percentage [of women in parliament] beyond that minimum [of a 30% female parliament] goes primarily to the political parties,” especially the RPF that “mandated that its lineup be 50% female.”

After the genocide, it was women who rebuilt the broken nation of Rwanda by becoming the heads of many households and taking on jobs that were previously only occupied by men such as construction or mechanics. This change in the household is also reflected in society-at-large. They now occupy the majority of seats in government, and because of this majority they have easily been able to enforce zero tolerance against rape, create healthcare infrastructure for women, found the first women’s college in the country and send more girls to school. Of course the country has a plethora of other obstacles to overcome, but by putting more women in power, they have reaped the benefits in increased gender equality, as shown in Clinton’s “No Ceilings” report. Rwanda’s female leadership is an inspiration for how we can begin to think about lifting women higher in both government and the economy throughout the world.

Many of the “Ten Goals” vouched for by the UN after this report call for an increase in women in the workforce and in leadership positions in companies through training programs social reforms, but how is this going to happen? Despite twenty years of a great deal of media coverage in the United States about the gender wage gap, ours has barely budged from the 78% since 1995. Are campaigns that raise awareness and marketing to encourage increased female leadership going to make any difference? Or should we do something more direct and simple like mandating more women in government to help pass laws that force our country to move forward and legislating policies that require more gender equality in leadership positions? Last month Germany passed a law stating that all major companies’ supervisory boards must be at least 30% female (Roberts). If our wage gap has not changed in twenty years, during an extraordinarily progressive period due to the exponential jumps in technology and the internet, it is worrisome to consider that in 2035 women will still be fighting the same battle. Maybe it is time for the United States (and other failing nations) to put an actual quota or affirmative action of sorts into place, much like the Rwandan constitution’s demand that 30% of it’s parliament be made up of women. If we do not take drastic legal action and instead rely solely on our minimally effective “social reforms” or “training and networking programs for women,” our generation of feminists will have let down the future generation of women.

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Categories: Means of Reproduction

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