According to a report of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the nation that has the largest percentage of women in the lower or single house of the legislative system is Rwanda, where women account for 64% of the members of parliament, followed by Andorra (50%) and Cuba (49%).
The US with a measly 18% is tied for 84th place with San Marino. It is even worse than it looks since the list has 15 nations above the US that are tied with others, so the US is actually in 99th position.
According to NPR, the brutal genocidal conflict that Rwanda went through just two decades ago had the unexpected consequence of catapulting women into the political leadership.
As Rwanda began to rebuild itself from the ashes of the 1994 genocide, something unexpected happened: Women began playing a much more influential role on many fronts, including politics.
Traditions that had limited women previously were cast aside, and President Paul Kagame also actively pushed for women to be in more prominent positions.
“They were the backbone of reconstruction of our country but at the same time also there was a political will to empower women,” said Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwanda’s ambasassdor to the U.S.
Women are active in all levels of government, from local village councils to Parliament, where they have far surpassed the official 30 percent quota for women, Mukantabana noted.
Swanee Hunt, who is with the Institute for Inclusive Security and is writing a book called Rwandan Women Rising, said women from all over Africa look at Rwanda as a model.
“What I see is that women are organizing very much at the grass roots, but what they don’t have is the political pull from the top,” she said. “So it’s much, much harder. But they are making important strides. I mean they’ve surpassed the United States by leaps and bounds.”
She said that in the past 20 years, she’s watched more than 50 countries move ahead of the U.S. when it comes to the percentage of female lawmakers.
Political equality for women is often the first step in getting greater equality for others. Rwanda’s story tells us that out of the ashes of ghastly atrocities, good things can emerge.