Surviving Genocide, Thriving in Politics: Rwandan Women’s Power

Gerise Herndon
Shirley Randell


Rwandan women have given their nation new status as a world leader in gender equality, having achieved a 56 percent majority in Parliament. Women have reached this level of political power for many reasons, including the current government’s political will and women parliamentarians’ conscious decision to emphasize pre-colonial traditions of leadership as an alternative to prevailing patriarchal notions of women’s capacity. Highlighting women’s historical roles as behind-the-scenes advisors effectively promoted gender equality in the public sphere. Not only have women in Parliament taken leadership in promoting laws that protect women against gender-based violence, but also civil society organizations have participated in rebuilding and unifying the country following the trauma of horrific sexual violence and killing during the 1994 genocide. Interviews conducted in Kigali and Butare in 2009 and 2010 inform this study of perceptions of women’s power at the parliamentary and the grassroots levels. Women’s visibility in national government has not immediately translated into empowerment in the home, in agriculture, in the office or in social life. Formal education is key to providing girls and women the tools to analyze and dismantle remaining obstacles to gender equality in the professional, social and private spheres, building on their political achievement.

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