Women, peace and security in Rwanda – promises and pitfalls

Originally published


With its high level of female representation and its successful reconciliation process after the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has emerged as something of an African and global ‘model’ of gender equality and conflict resolution. But beyond the ‘politics of numbers’ lies a male-dominated structure, where women and feminist thinking have little or no influence.
This policy note assesses how Rwanda has adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and offers policy advice on how to break gender barriers in the traditionally masculinist security sector.

On 31 October 2000, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its landmark Resolution 1325. Among other things, this aims at ensuring the role of women in prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and at protecting women from genderbased violence.
Two African countries, Namibia and Rwanda, have played an important role in the adoption and follow-up of Resolution 1325. In Namibia, the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations adopted the Windhoek Declaration on peacekeeping and a plan for gender mainstreaming back in May 2000. Besides, when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, it was under Namibian presidency. In the course of creating Resolution 1325, the experience of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda prompted a specific paragraph on gender-based violence; and on the resolution’s adoption, Rwanda’s UN Ambassador Joseph Mutaboba created a remarkable impression through his strong statement of support.

Twenty years on, there has been progress. An African Women, Peace and Security (WPS) architecture is in place, and a special envoy for WPS has been appointed. And yet, implementation of the resolution leaves something to be desired. This applies even to Rwanda, which is something of a ‘best case’ in terms of its commitment to the resolution: women have played a prominent role in the local gacaca courts post 1994; two national action plans have been drawn up; and there is large-scale representation of women at the national level (67.5 per cent of parliamentary seats). This policy note focuses mainly on Rwanda, but also includes examples from other contexts, and some of its recommendations could therefore also apply in other African settings.