Research Note: Women in Leadership in Rwanda from the Legislature to the Classroom

Parliament of Rwanda in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Amanda B. Edgell (2014)
Parliament of Rwanda in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Amanda B. Edgell (2014)

Friday, 04 July 2014 marked the end of the mourning period or Kwibuka20.  It seems only fitting that while Rwandans were reflecting on 20 years of progress since the 1994 genocide, female parliamentarians from across the globe converged upon Kigali for the second annual Women in Parliaments Global Forum.  That’s because one of the most notable hallmarks of Rwanda’s development in the past two decades has been the unprecedented increase in female membership within the national legislature.

Women Reps Rwanda copy

Today, females account for 63.8% of the lower house and 38.5% of the upper house. On paper, this statistic seems astonishing. Most countries in the world fall far behind reaching gender parity in their national legislative bodies. The global average percentage of seats held by women in the lower chamber is 20.05%, while in Africa this same statistic is 21.29%.

What explains Rwanda’s success at incorporating women into national level legislative politics? While Rwanda may be the land where women rule, at least as lawmakers, does this political empowerment at the national level translate into empowerment of women in other areas, such as higher education?

National Provisions for Women’s Legislative Representation

“The State of Rwanda commits itself that women are granted at least 30 per cent of posts in decision making organs” – Constitution of Rwanda, Article 9(4)

The Constitution of Rwanda (2003) explicitly requires women’s representation in all public offices including the legislature.

The lower chamber – the Chamber of Deputies – includes 53 members that are directly elected and 27 members that are indirectly elected. At least 30% of the candidates for the 53 directly elected seats must be female. In addition, 24 of the 27 indirectly elected seats are reserved for women. In total, for the 2013 election, affirmative action promised 24 seats for women in the lower house through reserved seats. It also ensured that 30% of the candidates in this chamber would be women. Thus gender quotas can account for at most gender parity in the lower house. In the 2013 election, women in Rwanda secured 11 more seats than could be expected from the quota provisions alone.

There is also a 30% quota for the Senate or upper chamber of the Rwandan legislature, which is indirectly appointed by local government and the national executive. Presently, women hold 2 seats in addition to the mandatory number set by the 30% quota.

Explaining Women’s Representation in Rwanda
High women’s representation in Rwanda has often been attributed to the aforementioned Constitutional provisions. The gender quotas in Rwanda’s Constitution have been attributed to the transformative experience of the genocide, regional diffusion, and international pressures.

However, a quick look at the data over time reveal that in general, throughout Rwanda’s history, women’s representation has tended to be high. Indeed, between the early 1980s and today, the turbulent period from 1994-1996 is the only time in Rwanda’s history when women’s representation fell below the global and African average. During this time period, Rwanda had an interim legislature that was appointed.

As these statistics imply, women’s representation in Rwanda cannot be attributed to affirmative action alone. Instead, there is also evidence that voters, as well as local and national leadership are supportive and see benefits from having women as lawmakers. Future research could perhaps uncover the underlying causes behind Rwanda’s unusually high women’s representation throughout its history.

Women’s Representation in Higher Education in Rwanda
Gender ratios in higher (or tertiary) education tell a different story for the case of Rwanda. In the college classroom, the country has remained below regional averages and far below the global mean in terms of enrollment gender ratio.

While worldwide women have outnumbered men in higher education institutions since the 1990s, Africa has yet to meet gender parity. Rwanda is no exception. For example, in 2012, UNESCO estimated that for every 100 male tertiary students in Rwanda, there were on average 76 female tertiary students. Official government figures from the Rwandan Ministry of Education are fairly similar, listing 79 female students to every 100 males. Meanwhile, for the African continent, this number was 88 to 100. For the globe, women outnumber men in higher education 126 to 100.

Tertiary Enrollment Comparison copy

Looking at the data more closely for reveals an interesting trend.  Since 2008, women have outnumbered men in Rwanda’s private tertiary institutions.  Meanwhile, women’s enrollment at public institutions of higher learning in Rwanda has remained fairly stable. In government funded colleges and universities, Rwandan women are outnumbered 2 to 1 by their male colleagues.

Tertiary Education copy

Will Integration of Public Universities in Rwanda Lead to Higher Female Recruitment Rates?
The Rwandan Ministry of Education is currently in the process of integrating the various public universities and colleges under a single umbrella – the University of Rwanda.  As a result, students seeking admittance into a public institution for the 2014/2015 academic year applied to one of the various colleges of the newly integrated UR.

UR Admissions 2014 copy

On 02 July, UR announced its first round of admitted applicants.  Applications that were incomplete or incorrect will be reviewed for second round admittance.  The data from UR’s press release suggest that changes in women’s representation within public higher education will not be an overnight process for Rwanda.  Among the admitted students, only 31% are female.

A closer inspection of the data reveal that despite being outnumbered in every college, these female students are qualitatively quite similar to their male colleagues.  If one were to rank order the most to least popular colleges by gender, the lists would be identical.

The most popular college for both males and females was the College of Business and Economics, which accounts for 38% of the freshman class.  This is also the college with the lowest gender disparity. Approximately 36% of the CBE students are female.  Meanwhile, women are least represented in the College of Science and Technology (CST- 24%), followed by the College of Agriculture, Animal Science, and Veterinary Medicine (CAVM – 27%).

UR Gender Distributions 2014 copy

Enhancement of opportunities for female entrance into the newly integrated University of Rwanda will not happen over night.  But as the 2014/2015 freshman class suggests, more can be done to ensure increased recruitment of female students.

Bigger questions remain unanswered. In particular, more targeted research needs to be conducted to better understand what barriers women face to entry into the public higher education system. Are females unable to compete with males for slots at Rwanda’s public universities? Is there overt gender discrimination in acceptance practices among public higher education institutions?  Or are women opting for private education, and if so, why do they prefer to take that route over the public one?

Women in Leadership Project (WLP) Seeks in Improve Grassroots Women’s Education and Economic Empowerment
Funded by USAID through Higher Education in Development, the Women in Leadership Project (WLP) is one initiative seeking to increase the recruitment of women into the University of Rwanda system.

The WLP is being implemented by the College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Rwanda in collaboration with the Center for Global Connections at Michigan State University.  As the project website explains:

“The overarching aim of this program is to strengthen the capacity of the University of Rwanda to advance women’s leadership in the field of agriculture. Michigan State University in partnership with Washington State University strives to strengthen Rwanda’s agricultural sector by addressing the gaps that NUR identified in their agribusiness training and research capacity. Interventions include developing a gender-sensitive masters of science in agribusiness with an emphasis in export agriculture to train highly employable agribusiness professionals with strong analytical and business development skills. The graduate program will prioritize accessibility to women and mid-career professionals, incorporate extensive experiential learning opportunities, and focus on producing graduates with highly employable knowledge and skills. Furthermore, this program will prepare women for leadership and entrepreneurial roles as well as promote engagement with local underserved communities.”

The MSc in Agribusiness alongside the WLP are set to launch in the 2014/2015 school year.

Some initial conclusions from this highly descriptive blog can be drawn.  While Rwanda has shown the world that women’s representation can be advanced in the legislative arena, the country still struggles to bring this macro-level empowerment down to the grassroots.  At Rwanda’s public institutions of higher learning, women are still vastly outnumbered by men.  Yet, surprisingly, women dominate in classrooms at private universities and colleges.  Perhaps the newly integrated University of Rwanda system will provide for better representation of women in the public tertiary sector.  Programs like the WLP are paving the way for gender parity at UR.  Meanwhile, much more research needs to be conducted to better understand the underlying reasons why women’s legislative representation in Rwanda has always been comparatively high and why women’s participation in public higher education lags.


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