Monday, October 27, 2008

It's hard to find good news these days, but. . . Rwanda??

Who would have imagined that the most war-torn country in Africa would be the site of the world's first women-majority parliament?

Women Run the Show In a Recovering Rwanda

KIGALI, Rwanda -- On a continent that has been dominated by the rule of men, this tiny East African nation is trying something new.

Here, women are not only driving the economy -- working on construction sites, in factories and as truck and taxi drivers -- they are also filling the ranks of government.

Women hold a third of all cabinet positions, including foreign minister, education minister, Supreme Court chief and police commissioner general. And Rwanda's parliament last month became the first in the world where women claim the majority -- 56 percent, including the speaker's chair.

One result is that Rwanda has banished archaic patriarchal laws that are still enforced in many African societies, such as those that prevent women from inheriting land. The legislature has passed bills aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, while a committee is now combing through the legal code to purge it of discriminatory laws.

. . . .

Though profound tensions and scars from the genocide still exist here, so does a strong sense of national purpose tinged with unapologetic political correctness.

It is taboo to speak of Hutus or Tutsis these days; everyone is Rwandan. The last Saturday of every month is community work day, when neighbors gather for six hours to help with a collective project -- clearing brush, or repairing a less-fortunate neighbor's house.

"We are doing this for ourselves -- not because it's a law," said Beatrice Namyonga, who was clearing weeds with her neighbors.

When it comes to the role of women, a similar attitude prevails.

In general, men here seem to have accepted and even embraced the policy of promoting women in government, even if their endorsement at times carries a dutiful tone.

"It was the government's aim to promote women, and the biggest proportion of Rwandans are women," said Jean Muhikira, 49, a driver who said he notices many more women in his line of work these days. "Women can contribute a lot in ideas."

In some quarters of Rwandan society -- particularly among older men and Hutu men who harbor some mistrust of Kagame's government -- the policy is viewed with faint suspicion.

"Maybe now that women have more than 50 percent in parliament, it could be a big problem," said Thomas Habumuisha, 29, who was out shopping with a friend on Saturday. "Maybe women could take advantage and oppress men."

His friend, Muhire Bitorwa, whose wife, a teacher, is helping pay his way through Kigali University, nodded politely, but disagreed.

"In my view, women are more reasonable, more merciful and less corrupt than men," he offered. "And culturally, women have not been recognized."

Read the whole thing.

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