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Political Reservations for Women in Parliament: Rwanda

Rwanda's 30 percent gender quota led to the world's largest share of women in government

June 6, 2023
Author: Ritwick Dutta

Rwanda’s new constitution in 2003 introduced a 30 percent gender quota for all elected positions in government. This policy aimed to promote gender equality and increase women’s representation in decision-making roles. The mandate paved the way for significant reforms led by women parliamentarians such as equal access to land ownership and labor laws for equal pay.

Following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda was governed by a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement and protocols introduced by the Rwandan Patriotic Front. In 2003, President Paul Kagame’s government implemented a new constitution, which included Article 10, a gender quota to ensure women’s participation in decision-making. Before the genocide, women in Rwanda had limited access to education and career opportunities, and only 19 percent of political representatives were women. However, due to the post-genocide population becoming 60 to 70 percent female, increasing women’s participation in government became a necessity.1

Rwanda has a two-chamber parliament with mandated quotas for women’s representation in both the lower and upper houses at the national and subnational level. The law states that 30 percent of all elected positions in decision making bodies at the national and subnational levels, including 24 of the 80 seats in the lower house of the parliament, must be held by women. The reserved seats in the lower house are elected by a special electoral college composed of voters from local women’s councils and district councils.2 The local women’s councils and district councils are elected by district executives that have been appointed by the National Women’s Council and National Bureau of Sectors (a subdivision of districts). The National Women’s Council in Rwanda is a grassroots organization that represents women at the community level, and its members are elected through a democratic process at the local level. The Bureau of Sectors in Rwanda is the administrative and executive body at the sector level, and its members are elected through a democratic process every five years.

In addition to the quota, there are voluntary gender quotas for political parties and the government pledged that women will be appointed to leadership roles (i.e.,ministers, local area officials, and police chiefs).3


Rwandan women, who took on leadership roles in civil society after the genocide of 1994, played a pivotal role in advocating for political participation in government.4 Influenced by civil society advocacy, President Paul Kagame implemented a gender quota as a part of the 2003 Constitution, with the first elections taking place the same year.


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After the implementation of the gender quota policy, the first election (2003) resulted in 48.8 percent of seats being won by women.5 This figure increased to 56 percent in the subsequent 2008 election. In the 2013 election, women held 67 percent of seats, including 26 out of the 53 available unreserved seats in addition to the 24 reserved seats and the youth seats, resulting in a total of 51 seats in Parliament. Furthermore, although not mandated, 42 percent of cabinet members, 32 percent of senators, 50 percent of judges, and 43.5 percent of city and district council seats are occupied by women.6

Since the introduction of reservation, women parliamentarians have helped bring about the revision of the Civil Code which now provides equal inheritance and succession rights between men and women, as well as the elimination of any form of discrimination in the laws that govern political parties and politicians. Women parliamentarians have also initiated labor laws on equal pay and gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination at work, equal rights to access and own land, and the prevention and punishment of gender-based violence and violence against children.7 Also, studies conducted between 1997 and 2009 suggest that the gender quotas have led to a general increase in women’s empowerment and autonomy as economic subjects in society.8

However, gender quotas alone are insufficient to bring about equal political and civic participation. For example, studies have found that women parliamentarians continue to be at a disadvantage due to:

  • Limited enforcement of gender equality laws such as Women’s Property Inheritance Rights
  • Lack of campaign financing creates barriers for funding for brochures, accommodation when traveling, and other campaign expenses.
  • Insufficient training and technical skills available to women to engage effectively in political activities.
  • Persistent gender stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes (i.e., that women’s primary role is in the home and caring for the family and how women are seen as less capable leaders than men).

Moreover, there have been reports of women pursuing political office, who are consequently at home less, facing gender-based violence at home.9 The enforcement of gender equality laws, increasing access to higher education, improving campaign financing, conducting training sessions on leadership and public speaking, and strengthening the technical skills and capacities of women candidates and elected leaders are required alongside gender quotas.10