Counting women

28 February 2005

Like to hazard a guess on which country has the highest representation of women in parliament?

Nope, it's not Sweden or Denmark (they come in second and third). It's Rwanda.

The NY Times carried a nice article, "Women's Voices Rise as Rwanda Reinvents Itself" the other day, that says women make up 48.8% of seats in the lower house. The reasons are slightly depressing. Not only were so many more men than women killed during the genocide that there may be seven times more women than men left in Rwanda today, but women are also seen as being less implicated in the genocide that left nearly one million people dead 1994. (This is even in spite of the fact that the former minister of family affairs, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, is on trial in the international crime court in Tanzania for inciting Hutus to rape Tutsi women, and is referred to in the media as the "minister of rape".)

But more women in politics is a good thing. A quote from the article:

"Before the genocide, women always figured their husbands would take care of them," said Aurea Kayiganwa, the coordinator of Avega, a national organization representing Rwanda's many war widows. "But the genocide changed all that. It forced women to get active, to take care of themselves. So many of the men were gone."

The film Hotel Rwanda didn't win any Oscars last night, but it seems to have generated plenty of interest in the small African country among editors at the New York Times. There's been a Rwanda story every day lately.

The film is excellent, but I would only go after reading this book first. The screenplay doesn't really examine the causes or reasons for the horrific genocide. But this book sure does. The title? "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families". Magnificent writing by Philip Gourevitch.

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