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Why African feminists see Rwanda as role model

Country seen as continent's success story for high female representation in politics, education and workplace.

Duduzile Nyirongo

Males tend to outnumber females in most parliaments around the world, but not in Rwanda. Women make up the majority of parliament in this African country.

By most measures, Rwanda is Africa's gender-equality success story for high female representation in politics, education and the workplace.

Rwanda was the first country in the world to have more than half of its government run by women.

Currently, 64 percent of its parliament is female, and it has been ranked the highest country in the world with most women in parliament, as of January 2017.

Jessica Horn, director of programmes, African Women's Development Fund in Ghana, says: "There is a legacy of African women playing significant roles in political leadership, and so it should not be too much of a surprise to see women playing political roles in Rwanda.

"It's the number that is significant - and that is the result of mobilising.

"African feminists have always argued, though, that it is not just quantity - the number of women in parliament - but politics: whether they work for a women's rights and transformative agenda."

Horn says, "On that point, every African parliament needs work. We still don't have full, consistent commitment to prioritising and financing gender equality anywhere. That's why we remain advocates".

According to the Global Competitiveness Report, Rwanda is the best place to be a woman in Africa and fourth globally after Iceland, Norway and Finland.

Rwanda is also a global leader in commitments related to the #HeforShe campaign, the global solidarity movement for gender equality, developed by UN women and spearheaded by men in support of justice and equality for women.

But just because Rwanda has a female-majority government, does not mean women are better off.

According to the UN, rates of domestic violence are considered high in the country.

Duduzile Nyirongo, a feminist who celebrated International Women's Day in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Thursday, said that Rwanda is an example of gender inclusivity.

She said: "There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, not only in government's spaces, but also on business and corporate level."

Memory Pamella Kadau, a human rights activist from Zimbabwe, said: "As we commemorate and celebrate International Women's Day, we reflect upon the progress and the influence of African feminism. Rwanda sets an example for Africa and the world in terms of women's political participation process."

Ngozi Cole from Sierra Leone said: "We need more political participation.

"In my country, we haven't even achieved to come close to Rwanda's example of more than 64 percent women represented in the parliament.

"My hope is to keep continuing to fight for more progress in terms of political participation and more laws that empower women and make women's lives easier."

Thursday's International Women's Day celebrations on social media were big in Rwanda.

Sharing pictures of herself, a user on Twitter said: "Rwanda is a good example of a country that has made progress in terms of gender inclusiveness. What are you doing to press for progress?"

Someone else tweeted, "Happy Women's Day to the amazing women in the Rwandan Defence Forces who work day and night to keep peace in Rwanda. We salute you."

Kim tweeted, "Happy #InternationalWomensDay to Rwandan Women. Thanks for your contribution in moving our nation forward."

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