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Women Have Found Respect: Gender Quotas, Symbolic Representation, and Female Empowerment in Rwanda

  • Jennie E. Burnet (a1)
Abstract

Building on previous studies of women's formal, descriptive, and substantive representation in Rwanda, this article examines women's symbolic representation, defined as the broader social and cultural impact of the greater representation of women in the Rwandan political system. It explores the cultural meanings of gender quotas by analyzing popular perceptions of women, of women's roles in politics and society more broadly, and of changing cultural practices vis-à-vis gender. Data were gathered over 24 months of ethnographic research conducted between 1997 and 2009 and by ongoing documentary research. The study finds that although Rwandan women have made few legislative gains, they have reaped other benefits, including increased respect from family and community members, enhanced capacity to speak and be heard in public forums, greater autonomy in decision making in the family, and increased access to education. Yet there have also been some unexpected negative consequences, such as increased friction with male siblings, male withdrawal from politics, increased marital discord, and a perception that marriage as an institution has been disrupted by the so-called upheaval of gender roles. Most significantly, increased formal representation of women has not led to increased democratic legitimacy for the government.

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