As the proportion of women parliamentarians worldwide reached more than 25 percent last year, Rwanda, even after penetrating the list of top five most advanced nations in terms of gender parity remains a country of wonder where women politicians are the epitomes in rebuilding the nation.
In the Rwandan parliament, women hold more than half the seats and in a recent ranking of countries by how they had narrowed the gender gap, Rwanda came in sixth in the world. The US was No 28.
In fact, Rwanda is currently leading the world with a larger share of women in the national legislature, reports NPR.
The progressive picture of Rwandan politics is the result of a tragic history of ethnic conflict in the African nation. The gruesome slaughter lasting 100 days in 1994 had 800,000 to 1 million of Rwanda's population killed.
Then Rwanda's population of 5.5 million to 6 million was 60 to 70 percent female. Most of these women had never been educated or raised with the expectations of a career. In pre-genocide Rwanda, it was almost unheard of for women to own land or take a job outside the home.
The genocide opened the workplace to Rwandan women. Moreover, the call for equality was led by President Paul Kagame, who has led the country since his army stopped the genocide.
Kagame decided that Rwanda was so demolished, so broken, it simply could not rebuild with men's labour alone. So the country's new constitution, passed in 2003, decreed that 30 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women.
The government also pledged that girls' education would be encouraged and women would be appointed to leadership roles, like government ministers and police chiefs. Kagame vowed to not merely play catch-up to the West but leapfrog ahead of it.
The country embraced Kagame's policies and even went beyond his mandatory minimum. In the 2003 election, 48 percent of parliamentary seats went to women. In the next election — 64 percent. Today Rwandan politics is cited as a model of gender inclusiveness.
This change from the top down was possible partly because of the nature of Rwanda's leadership. Kagame had a broad popular mandate for sweeping change — he had led Rwanda's army to stop the genocide.
However, Kagame being a strongman military ruler allowed little dissent or free speech. The radical change in Rwandan political structure seemingly had an opposite effect on the society as NPR reports.
Justine Uvuza, a Rwandan scholar examined the lives of female politicians in Rwanda — not just their public positions but their private lives, with their husbands and children. She found with rare exceptions that no matter how powerful these women were in public, that power did not extend into their own homes.
"One parliamentarian told me how her husband expected her to make sure that his shoes were polished, the water was put in the bathroom for him, his clothes were ironed," Justine said.
Because of the way that gender equality came so rapidly to Rwanda, from the outside in, with no psychological buildup or women's liberation movement, it was harder for these politicians to talk about equality without appearing disloyal, not just to their spouses but to their country.
Nevertheless, rebuilding the nation of Rwanda and achieving its improved economic condition could have been delayed indefinitely if not for the female leaders of the county. Many like Uvuza believe that the change in the political scenario will soon be reflected in the Rwandan society if the public becomes more aware.