In 2006, when government of Rwanda created new 416 local administrative Sectors, it would require a team of competent individuals to take up all these positions.
Umuhoza Rwabukumba was only 28 years and had just graduated with a bachelors degree in Political Science from National University of Rwanda and was an active member of Rwanda Patriotic Front Party Youth wing. She was spotted and appointed to lead Mugunga sector, in Northern Rwanda.
For the entire decade, Rwabukumba has served under local administration system in four sectors of Gakenke district and currently is serving as Executive Secretary of Kinyinya sector, Gasabo district.
She told KT Press it has not been an easy journey but because of her resilience, she managed to stay on top of the game and is now one of the longest serving local leaders.
Rwabukumba recalls the first day at her post in Mugunga sector in Gakenke. She knew no-one there. The mayor of Gakenke district, picked her and they drove to Mugunga on a Sunday afternoon.
She was given keys to an office that had just few basics and office furniture. Two chairs and two small tables, she recalls. But the local government ministry had promised to furnish the office once the staff were on site.
“Before the procurement processes, we used to borrow even chairs from nearby residents whenever we had big gatherings like meetings or official events,” adds Umuhoza from her current well-furnished office in Kinyinya sector.
Rwabukumba remembers, “When I arrived at my first post, it was a Sunday around midday. The mayor showed me my area of work. Once he left, the soldiers took the initiative themselves to find me a home. They contacted a woman who had secured a big house but it was in another sector and across a river. I had no other alternative, I lived there and crossed the river every morning and evening.”
Reforms in 2006 Brought Women on Board
The 2006 decentralisation reform aimed at getting public services closer to the people. The reforms introduced more professional staff both at the district and sector levels.
At the sector and cell level there is a permanent officer, the Executive Secretary. This territorial restructuring from 11 to 4 provinces and from 106 districts to 30 districts while sectors reduced from 1545 to 416. This strengthened the capacity and improved resource mobilisation and utilisation in the Local Government.
Local administration benefited from adequately qualified personnel at district and sector levels. That’s how Umuhoza, a fresh graduate of Political Science at the then National University of Rwanda found herself appointed to lead Mugunga sector in the capacity of Executive Secretary.
“At that time, many girls and women like me were called in. We found ourselves handling the new administrative entities. We became leaders and implementers of government policies and took part in the change that has happened and transformed service delivery.
Services that made citizens walk many kilometres to the former ‘communes and prefectures’ are now delivered at sector and cell levels.”
Despite all the challenges involved at the time of new reforms, “I realised that because my party chose me, I had to be confident and face all odds to deliver the change with limited resources available.”
The mother of two recalls how even in her last stages of pregnancy and during maternity leave she made herself available to citizens.
“You know Rwanda laws cover full monthly pay for working mothers on maternity leave but there is a time I dedicated to some work like signing to official documents. I made sure that while I enjoy maternity leave benefits, I also helped on some tasks that cannot be delegated to somebody else,” recalls Umuhoza.
Inspired by Inyumba Aloysia
Aloysia Inyumba as one of the ruling RPF founding members and instrumental in the 1990-94 liberation war which stopped the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, crisscrossed the whole country explaining the basics of gender equality to ordinary Rwandans. Rwabukumba was inspired by late Inyumba’s charisma.
“Late Inyumba is a role model, she served the country as a committed woman but with humility. She was too attentive but also decisive. I believe like her that women are by nature peace makers. Once given opportunity, we can use our God-given abilities to lead peaceful, listen attentively and ease tensions and conflicts.”
Since 2006, Umuhoza has served in five different sectors. Four in Gakenke, Northern Rwanda –Mugunga (2006-2009), Nemba (2009-2014), Rushashi (2014-2016) and now in Kinyinya of Gasabo district in Kigali since 2016.
“Normally when you know that the government has bestowed power and trust in you, you should not disappoint. We face much pressure from citizens seeking for services, from our supervisors who demand results from us, but we also face temptations of those trying to corrupt us for undue privileges but it’s all about sticking to the integrity and culture of delivering,” she told KT Press.
No more Bias against women
Rwabukumba doesn’t remember any incidence of discrimination against her because of being a woman. She believes the laws are inclusive and that Rwanda has outlawed all aspects of gender discrimination, hostile work environments and bias against women in leadership.
Efforts by Inyumba and others in RPF paid off with inclusion of gender quota clause in the 2013 Constitution, which in theory, opened doors of power to Rwandan women.
“There is also the post-genocide situation, which left a big number of women as heads of households, the RPF made a good move by introducing quotas requiring 30% of political and government candidates to be women. This has brought about real change in national and local political environment.
This made the RPF stronger, but it also empowered women,” Umuhoza says.
Umuhoza is not the only one who has made it to the political scene. Rwanda women have taken 64% of parliamentary seats. Worldwide, women still represent under a quarter (21.9%) of all elected parliamentary seats. Elsewhere in Rwanda’s public agencies the presence of women in senior positions is remarkable.
Boys and girls now attend compulsory primary and secondary school in equal numbers, and new laws enable women to own and inherit property.
There should be political will
The 2014 World Economic Forum report ranks Rwanda as Africa’s best performer in closing the gender gap, and the seventh of 142 countries on the global index. Rwanda has also joined the global solidarity movement ‘HeForShe’ campaign which aims at engaging men and boys in tackling social and cultural barriers that prohibit women and girls from achieving their full potential, thus reshaping the society for the benefit of all.
The president of the republic Paul Kagame himself took part in the movement dubbed Impact 10x10x10 champion, making Rwanda one of the ten countries around the world committing to take bold, game-changing action to achieve gender equality within and beyond their countries.
Rwanda has reaped much from including women in all decision making instances. Under other skies, there must have been much talk with less acts. The good resolutions from the 1995 Fourth World conference on women in Beijing did not amount to much because the political will to implement was lacking.
When the Zurich-based Women in Parliaments Organisation broug