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Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda


Burnet, Jennie. 2008. "Gender Balance and the Meanings of Women in Governance in Post-Genocide Rwanda." African Affairs 107 (428): 361-86.

Author: Jennie Burnet


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.


Keywords: post-conflict governance, post-conflict reconstruction, women's political participation


In her article, Burnet examines the increased percentage of women in positions of political leadership in Rwanda in the years following the 1994 genocide. Before the 1994 civil war, women had seldom held positions in the nation’s parliament. Between 1994 and 2003, however, the number of women in Rwanda’s government increased dramatically as a result of President Kagame’s effort to integrate women into the post-conflict reconstruction process. While the Rwandan Patriotic Front imposed quotas that made Rwanda the country with the highest percentage of women in its government in 2003, this gender equality on the political level did not implicate genuine female empowerment. Rather, the RPF’s introduction of women into positions of political leadership served to cover up the party’s authoritarianism and human right’s abuses as well as a way to gain praise from the international community.

In the years following the genocide, not only did women’s political representation skyrocket, but the number of women’s organizations also increased dramatically. Scholars cite four main reasons for the proliferation of women’s organizations: the extreme crisis that women faced following the genocide, the history of women’s grassroots organizations in the country, economic aid from the international community, and the Rwandan government’s policies. The RPF’s ideology also played into the drastic increase in women’s NGOs’s in the late 1990s. Burnet explains that RPF saw civil society as an intrinsic part of the state; thus, the regime encouraged the development of local organizations that promoted the stated goals of the national government.

The congruence between women in civil society and in government was affirmed in 1999 when the government passed “the Inheritance Law,” which gave women the legal right to inherit property, among other benefits, such as paid employment and contract rights; however, this promotion of women’s rights did not entail democratic values in the country’s politics. Members of the national government continued to be appointed by RPF leaders rather than elected by the public. In addressing the question of why, if the country was not a true democracy, the regime allowed the Inheritance Law to pass, Burnet writes that the RPF saw the legislation as a necessary step in protecting the rights of genocide widows and that the women’s NGOs that had formed worked in cohesion to manipulate the state and support the policy.  The major presence of women in Rwanda’s government also allowed female decision-makers to influence government policy. In analyzing the success of women in passing the legislation, Burnet concludes that “limited forms of democratic participation are possible under an authoritarian government” (378).

In the latter half of her article, Burnet assesses the situation of women in Rwanda today, arguing that it has not improved despite the participation of women in the nation’s governance. She writes that the women’s movement in Rwanda has been set back because the leaders of women’s NGOs have abandoned their civil society work to take government positions, leaving the organizations with weak leadership. Additionally, women’s organizations have not been able to rally around a single issue, which has undercut the unity of the women’s movement. Increased female participation in government has also had other negative consequences. Leaders of women’s NGOs in Rwanda view female politicians in the RPF as traitors to the women’s movement, which has weakened the cooperation between civil society and the state in promoting women’s rights, and some argue that the RPF has also carried out female-friendly policies merely as a way to further its own political agenda.

Burnet concludes that while women in Rwanda may not immediately benefit from the political and legal rights granted to them by the RPF, advancements in gender equality may develop in the long-term. As Rwanda’s culture continues to develop, women’s identities will change, affording them greater agency as an accumulation of their political, legal, and social rights. The incorporation of women into Rwanda’s government has changed public perceptions of women positively, paving the way for freedom in other areas of their lives. Post-genocide reconstruction has also necessitated the active participation of women in infrastructure projects, farming tasks, and other household and government roles. Thus, while the genocide confronted women with the difficulty of handling these new tasks without the help of their deceased male counterparts, it entailed a complete disruption of conventional gender relations, which provided offered women an opportunity for more robust political and social roles.

Topics: Civil Society, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, NGOs, Peacebuilding, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Women's Rights, Security Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2008

Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women Between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation


Al-Ali, Nadje. 2005. "Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women Between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation." Third World Quarterly 26 (4-5): 739-58.

Author: Nadje Al-Ali


This article explores the role of Iraqi women in reconstruction processes by contextualizing the current situation with respect to changing gender ideologies and relations over the past three decades. Before discussing the Iraqi case specifically, I provide a brief theoretical background about the significance of gender in reconstruction as well as nation-building processes. A historical background aims to shed light on the changing gender ideologies and relations during the regime of Saddam Hussein. The article focuses particularly on the impacts of the early developmental-modernist discourses of the state and the impacts of war (Iran-Iraq war 1980-88, Gulf wars 1991, 2003) as well as on the comprehensive economic sanctions regime (1990-2003). The latter involved wider social changes affecting women and gender relations but also society at large because of the impoverishment of the well educated middle- class, wide-scale unemployment, an economic crisis and a shift towards more conservative values and morals. It is against this historical background that contemporary developments related to ongoing conflict, occupation and political transition affect women and gender relations.

Keywords: post-conflict reconstruction, S1325, women's political participation, governance, nation-building, reconstruction, economics, political transition


Al-Ali begins by calling attention to the struggles that Iraqi women have faced in spite of the country’s recent process of democratization. While UN Resolution 1325 calls for the incorporation of gender concerns into the reconstruction process, foreign occupation and the unstable interim government (as of 2005, when this article was written) have prevented the internalization of gender-conscious values among the Iraqi populace. In her article, Al-Ali first explores the significant of gender in the reconstruction process and then turns to post-war Iraq as a case study.

In her section on gender and post-conflict periods, Al-Ali explains that post-war situations often elicit violence against women. In post-war Iraq, for example, the levels of violence (particularly against women) were actually greater following the period of militarized conflict. When violence is no longer institutionalized, women lack the political space to challenge gender relations that they had during wartime; thus, the safety and well-being of women is often ignored in the post-conflict period. Al-Ali proceeds to explain how women have been excluded from post-conflict reconstruction processes. While women strive to make their voices heard through engagement with NGOs, these organizations are often discounted by male-dominated society. SCR 1325 is also ignored in many Muslim societies, as it is viewed as an imposition of Western culture and values, especially in US-occupied Iraq.

Al-Ali provides a historical context through which to analyze the situation of Iraqi women before the 1990s. She explains that early Baathist policies in the 1970s fostered women’s rights as part of the regime’s effort for national indoctrination, and as men went off to fight during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, women took over their positions in the workforce. The economic sanctions imposed on Iraqi society in the 1990s, however, adversely affected women, as it led to a breakdown of the welfare state and pushed women back into their traditional roles as mothers and housewives.

The war has had a drastic impact on gender roles within the household in ways that are detrimental to women. The economic and political issues that have resulted from the war have strained relationships between husbands and wives, leading to increased divorce rates and levels of domestic abuse against women. Due to the high fatality levels among male soldiers, women left without husbands have been forced to run female-headed households, which has presented women with degrees of responsibility with which they often cannot cope.

The increased levels of religiosity in post-war Iraq have also contributed to a culture that puts social limitations on women. Girls have become increasingly worried about their reputation, and the number of honor killings has increased since the start of the war. Additionally, economic hardships have forced women into prostitution, which has led to greater incentives to impose conservative regulations on women’s behavior.

In regard to women’s political participation in the post-war period, Al-Ali explains that the number of women’s organizations has been increasing since 2003, and women have become mobilized around the issues of replacing the personal status law with a more conservative law, as well as the issue of drafting a quota for women’s representation in political office. Recently, however, women’s organizations have been hindered by the country’s severe security situation, which has prevented women from leaving their houses and running for elections in 2005. Gender-specific threats and violence have posed a particular barrier to gender equality in Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch.

Ultimately, Al-Ali presents a bleak picture of the ways in which war, sanctions, and occupation have negatively impacted Iraqi women. Her vision of the future is no less pessimistic; she doubts whether the women’s political representation quota of 25% will be fulfilled, and she points to the worsening humanitarian situation for women in particular. In order to improve the situation for Iraqi women, she advocates  the mainstreaming of gender into all aspects of post-conflict reconstruction, which would involve the incorporation of women into government as well as economic and judiciary processes. Because she attributes the failure of gender equality largely to its association with Western values, she writes that rather than encourage a feminist approach to reconstruction, emphases should be placed on education and other areas that would necessarily improve the status of women.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Economies, Poverty, Education, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equity, Governance, Post-conflict Governance, Households, Justice, Transitional Justice, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Religion, Rights, Women's Rights Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iraq

Year: 2005

'Guards and Guns': Towards Privatised Militarism in Post-Apartheid South Africa


Cock, Jacklyn. 2005. 'Guards and Guns': Towards Privatised Militarism in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies 31 (4): 791-803.

Author: Jacklyn Cock


This article argues that contemporary South Africa is marked by the coexistence of both old and new forms of militarism. A shallow and uneven process of state demilitarisation was underway between 1990 to 1998 in the form of reductions in military expenditure, weapons holdings, force levels, employment in arms production and base closures. However, this has had contradictory consequences including providing an impetus to a 'privatised militarism' that is evident in three related processes: new forms of violence, the growth of private security firms and the proliferation of small arms. Since 1998 a process of re-militarisation is evident in the use of the military in foreign policy and a re-armament programme. Both trends illustrate how a restructured, but not transformed, post-apartheid army represents a powerful block of military interests. (JSTOR)

Keywords: private security, militarization

Topics: Gender, Masculinity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Private Military & Security, Militarism, Post-Conflict, Weapons /Arms Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2005

Gender, Conflict, and Development


Bouta, Tsjeard, Georg Frerks, and Ian Bannon. 2005. Gender, Conflict, and Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Authors: Tsjeard Bouta, Georg Frerks, Ian Bannon


Gender, Conflict, and Development was written as an effort to fill a gap between the Bank's work on gender mainstreaming and its agenda in conflict and development. The authors identify a link between gender and conflict issues and provide the most comprehensive review of external and internal sources on gender and conflict, with a particular focus on policy relevance for an institution such as the Bank. The book highlights the gender dimensions of conflict, organized around major relevant themes such as female combatants, sexual violence, formal and informal peace processes, the legal framework, work, the rehabilitation of social services and community-driven development. And for each theme it analyzes how conflict changes gender roles and the policy options that might be considered to build on positive aspects while minimizing adverse changes. The suggested policy options and approaches aim to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by violent conflict to encourage change and build more inclusive and gender balanced social, economic and political relations in post-conflict societies. The book concludes by identifying some of the remaining challenges and themes that require additional analysis and research. The book will be of interest to policymakers, scholars, researchers, graduate and upper-level undergraduate students of conflict studies/regional studies/gender studies. (Amazon)

Keywords: female combatants, gender mainstreaming

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Society, Combatants, Female Combatants, Development, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Governance, Humanitarian Assistance, Livelihoods, Peacebuilding, Peacekeeping, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against women

Year: 2005

Rebuilding Social Capital in Post-Conflict Regions: Women's Village Banking in Ayucucho, Peru and in Highland Guatemala


Bebbington, Denise Humphreys, and Arelis Gómez. 2006. "Rebuilding Social Capital in Post-Conflict Regions: Women's Village Banking in Ayucucho, Peru and in Highland Guatemala." In Microfinance: Perils and Propsects, edited by Jude L. Fernando, 112-132. London: Routledge.

Authors: Denis Humphreys Bebbington, Arelis Gómez


In this chapter we will use examples from two village banking programs, in post-conflict Ayacucho, Peru (with FINCA Peru) and in Highland Guatemala (with the NGO FAFIDESS), to illustrate how the provision of financial services contributed to the rebuilding of such social capital. The experiences of group managed lending schemes, such as the village banks promoted by FINCA International, and traditional rotating savings and credit associations known as ROSCAs, suggest that there is indeed an important relationship between the social dynamic of the group and favorable financial outcomes. Our findings indicate that the more members trust each other, the better able they are to engage in mutual risk-taking and reap the benefits.

Keywords: reconstruction


“The [Foundation for Community Assistance] methodology, based upon principles of self-help and self-management, primarily targets poor women in urban and semi-urban settings...participants are self-selected and may often be friends, neighbors, or relatives and programs often have selection criteria which might include: preference for mothers with children, permanent residence in the community, reputation for honesty, and hard work.” (Bebbington, 114)

“By virtue of their social isolation, poor women are difficult clients to recruit...Situations of conflict pose special problems, particularly when the result is a larger number of war widows...Encouraging members to articulate their personal hardships and dreams is at the center of FINCA’s social empowerment strategy for women...Beyond the emotional appeal of this approach, it helps isolated women extend their social networks with important impacts.” (Bebbington, 119)

“NGOs that are both knowledgeable of the region and sensitive to their clients’ needs will be better able to look for synergism that will enhance benefits to their clients. They will understand the dimensions of the client’s poverty and vulnerability.” (Bebbington, 119)

“However this newly discovered economic power has shifted roles within families often resulting in increased conflict within the family, particularly with spouses, but also with children and other family members.” (Bebbington, 125)

Topics: Class, Development, Economies, Gender, Women, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Americas, Central America, South America Countries: Guatemala, Peru

Year: 2006

Post-Conflict Mozambique: Women's Special Situation, Population Issues and Gender Perspectives: to be Integrated into Skills Training and Employment


Baden, Sally. 1997. Post-Conflict Mozambique: Women's Special Situation, Population Issues and Gender Perspectives: to be Integrated into Skills Training and Employment. Geneva: International Labor Organization.

Author: Sally Baden

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Livelihoods, Militarized livelihoods, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Mozambique

Year: 1997

Women, Children and Returnees


Arnvig, Eva. 1994. "Women, Children and Returnees." In Between Hope and Insecurity: The Social Consequences of the Cambodian Peace Process, edited by Peter Utting, 83-103. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute Social Development.

Author: Eva Arnvig


This chapter examines the situation of women, children and returnees in Cambodia and the social impact of the large-scale United Nations presence. Following a brief description of certain general aspects related to family traditions, the position of women in the economy, education and health, the chapter examines a number of social and socio-psychological problems that have risen to the fore in recent years. These include post-war trauma, the reintegration of refugees, prostitution, drugs and street children. Particular attention is focused on the extent to which the behaviour of United Nations peace-keeping and security personnel may have contributed to certain social problems as well as the souring of relations between UNTAC and the host population.


  • Families who have issues assimilating after times of conflict face having to sell their children or allow their children to enter urban areas as street children or prostitutes. Other children are forced to work in plantations to earn money offering a stark change from growing up in refugee camps.

  • Many indigenous peoples blame UNTAC for increases in sexually transmitted infections, street crimes, poverty, and starvation for being unable to efficiently and successfully offer aid in the reintegration process.


“The Total Institution Syndrome has a serious affect on mental attitude and behaviour. It manifests itself in apathy, aggression, violent behaviour, abrupt changes of mood, depression and tiredness along with physical disorders such as headaches and stomach problems.” (92)

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Humanitarian Assistance, International Organizations, Livelihoods, Sexual livelihoods, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Regions: Asia, Southeast Asia Countries: Cambodia

Year: 1994

Land and Property Rights of Women in Situations of Reconstruction: The Central American Experience


Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress. 1998. “Land and Property Rights of Women in Situations of Reconstruction: The Central American Experience.” Paper prepared for the Inter-Regional Consultation on Women’s Land and Property Rights in Situations of Conflict and Reconstruction, Kigali, Rwanda, February 16 - 19.

Author: Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress

Topics: Gender, Women, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights Regions: Americas, Central America

Year: 1998

Development, Women, and War: Feminist Perspectives


Afshar, Haleh, and Deborah Eade, eds.. 2004. Development, Women, and War: Feminist Perspectives. Oxford: Oxfam GB.

Authors: Haleh Afshar, Deborah Eade


Policy makers, practitioners, and academics discuss long-running conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe and highlight the shared experiences of women, and their potential to contribute both to war and particularly to peace. They consider why women’s concerns have yet to be placed at the forefront of both analysis and practical outcomes, present an overview of different feminist approaches to peace building and conflict resolution, and put forward concrete policy measures to achieve these ends. They argue for the need to move beyond the myriad projects that involve women to consider the factors that contribute to the relatively poor overall impact of such projects, an outcome that often results from a failure to understand the underlying gendered power relations and the dynamics of social change.

Keywords: gender mainstreaming, policy formulation, feminist analysis

Topics: Armed Conflict, Feminisms, Gender, Women, International Organizations, Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe

Year: 2004


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