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Across Africa, many countries have taken initiatives to increase the participation and representation of women in governance. Yet it is unclear what meaning these initiatives have in authoritarian, single-party states like Rwanda. Since seizing power in 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front has taken many steps to increase the participation of women in politics such as creating a Ministry of Gender, organizing women’s councils at all levels of government, and instituting an electoral system with reserved seats for women in the national parliament. This article explores the dramatic increase in women’s participation in public life and representation in governance and the increasing authoritarianism of the Rwandan state under the guise of ‘democratization.’ The increased political participation of women in Rwanda represents a paradox in the short-term: as their participation has increased, women’s ability to influence policy-making has decreased. In the long-term, however, increased female representation in government could prepare the path for their meaningful participation in a genuine democracy because of a transformation in political subjectivity. The lasting repercussions of the 1994 genocide, the material realities of life in post-genocide Rwanda, and the greater representation of females in public life and political office have promoted a great deal of change in cultural and social conceptions of gender roles. With these changes has come a greater acceptance of women in positions of authority and of women as independent agents in the public sphere. This transformation in political subjectivity could prepare women to take a meaningful role in government should a real transition to democracy take place in Rwanda.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in African Affairs following peer review. The version of record Burnet, Jennie E. Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda. African Affairs 107(428):361-386 is available online at: doi: 10.1093/afraf/adn024.

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