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Women transform post-genocide Rwanda

Life is fast improving for women in Rwanda who now take up more than half the nation’s parliament. With 56 per cent of women MPs, officials say Rwanda's parliament has a higher percentage of women than any other parliament in the world.

By law in the central African country women must have at least 30% of the seats in government, including local government. And it is not just for show. Women have forced the government to act over rape. Sexual attacks were part of the genocide, with local political leaders running what amounted to rape camps in villages. The international tribunal for Rwanda - which tried some of the organisers and perpetrators of the killings - defined rape as an act of genocide under international law "There used to be a lot of rapes, wife beating, male domination of women, boys sent to school and not girls," said Daphrose Nyirasafali, from the United Nation's family planning and reproductive health organisation (UNFPA). "That has all changed, even in the countryside,” she told the Guardian.

Rwanda suffered Africa's worst genocide in modern times. The country has been troubled by ethnic tension caused by the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus. In September, a landmark parliamentary election saw women win 45 of the 80 seats. Nearly half were elected in women-only seats, with the rest winning in open ballots. The women MPs are former rebels and genocide survivors, war widows and farmers. Under the requirements of a new constitution, women already held a third of cabinet posts. The heads of the Supreme Court and the police are also women, as are most of the country's prison governors.

Until 1994, women held only about one in five parliamentary seats. The 1994, state sponsored genocide changed that. When the killing ended there were twice as many women as men in Rwanda, and more than a third of households are now headed by women. Women also make up 55% of the workforce and own about 40% of businesses. Much has changed. Women now have the right to own land and property. They can choose to marry and whether they want to share what they own with their husband or they keep it separate. Inheritance laws have been changed so that a man's property is split equally between his wife and both female and male children. Rape is now recognised as a very serious offence; there is a free police hotline and heavy jail sentences for perpetrators. Contraception has been made widely available. "We have a lot of influence," said Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda's foreign minister.

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