This qualitative study explored gender relations and the role of masculinities on women’s participation in local civilian and political agendas in the eight Rwandan districts including Burera, Gakenke, Gatsibo, Ngororero, Nyagatare, Nyamagabe, Nyaruguru and Rulindo. The study, carried out in December 2020 and January 2021, included interviews and discussions with 384 men, women, boys and girls in 64 Focus Group Discussions and 25 Key informant interviews with stakeholders, experts and leaders at national, district and community levels. The research aimed to identify obstacles in gender relations and masculinities that contribute to GBV and hinder women’s participation of the local agenda and grasp aspects of masculinity that positively contribute to women’s engagement and participation in local politics. The obstacles are associated with attitudes, practices and perceptions on masculinities in gender relations :
Cultural perceptions and norms are keeping women and men captured in traditional gender roles : Gender relations are characterized by traditional gender roles where men are the head of the family and women do household work. Women and girls’ ambitions remain often focused to “be a good wife and mother”. In being a “good woman” they have to respect men and husbands as their providers and protectors which automatically gives men the privileged position as decision makers. “Good man” are responsible for the family and in being a real man they cannot do women’s work. Cultural taboos and shame are playing an important role in keeping men and women stuck to socially ascribed activities. Social norms are internalized and deeply ingrained in gendered identities. Breaking such social codes generates strong emotions as shame, especially among men ; that makes changes of gender norms difficult.
Power inequality facilitates men’s use of violence against women and reinforce traditional social norms of women as weak and men as decision makers : Men feeling entitled to dominate and control women because they are income providers and males, are not providing space for women to take decisions nor consider their opinions. Furthermore, power inequality leads to various forms of violence against women committed by men, and women are often blamed for men’s use of violence. Framing women as peacemakers that are responsible for harmony at home contribute to men’s justification of violence use to a wife that is not respecting him. In other words, power inequality reinforces violence and abuse against women and feeds the perception that masculinity means that men can restrict, abuse and dominate their wives.
Psychosocial responses of women and girls affected by gender-based violence reinforce traditional gender roles : Many women and girls are coping with negative consequences of violence by keeping silent and acceptance of traditional gender roles. The psychosocial consequences of violence confine women, but also girls, to their socially prescribed roles and force them to accept men’s power and control to avoid conflicts and social rejection. Fear and consequences of violence, the shame of being labeled as a bad woman who is not respecting her husband, is a major obstacle for women to participate in public activities. To avoid violence and social rejection, women navigate their life’s between traditional gender roles expectations and searching opportunities to enjoy her women rights.
Gender equality is perceived as a failure of masculinity : Men and boys resist to support gender equality as they fear that women’s autonomy may take power away from men. Men are afraid that women’s empowerment makes women disrespectful, arrogant, prostitutes and make them a source of conflicts at home. Social taboos on men’s vulnerability and weakness are pushing men and boys to meet masculinity perceptions of being strong, tough and in control. Failure in having control, is an important source of resistance against gender equality and violence against women.
Rwandan regulations to promote gender equality and end GBV are hindered by masculinity perceptions : The anti GBV law has an important preventive impact on gender-based violence against women. Fear for punishment has created a taboo on violence against women as a crime that is no longer accepted as a social cultural phenomenon. Loss of power is confronting men with failed masculinity that generates resistance and sometimes more violence. Access for women to decision making structures is opening new windows for women and girls but full implementation is hindered by hegemonic masculinities.
Access for women and girls to political engagement evolves but is hindered by deeply rooted perceptions on gender relations and masculinities : Women and men are aware of possibilities for women to participate in meetings and leadership roles, but traditional gender roles are the main obstacles for women as for men. Women cannot combine the household work with other activities and men are not yet ready to support his wife doing women’s work. Women, often lower educated than men, feeling less experienced and skilled to take up leader roles. Last but not least, strong resistance of men fearing to lose control is hindering women to participate.
Young boys and girls supportive to women’s role in leadership positions : The younger generation is more convinced that women and men have equal capacities and competences for decision making and political participation. They have experienced themselves that there was no difference in skills and intelligence of boys and girls. Despite their support for women’s and girls’ access to leadership, and access for women and girls to work outside the house, they hold on to traditional gender roles. The majority of boys and girls think that women should do homework and childcare and men should generate income. But they could collaborate and support each other, when there is love between them.
Positive masculinities of men that support women’s empowerment are potential present but need to be reinforced and guided : Despite challenges of men and women in embracing gender equality and supporting women and girls to participate in public roles, there are opportunities. Women and girls and -fewer men and boys- are in a process of adopting perceptions of positive masculinities as nonviolent, collaborative and supportive. It is recommended to support this process of change, including negative side effects as resistance, through research, programs and interventions that equally include men, women, boys and girls to experience the strength of gender equality as sharing being human.
Limited capacity in gender mainstreaming among district planning units remains a stumbling block for effective transformation of negative masculinities and gender inequalities : the Rwanda government has made tremendous efforts to promote gender equality through positive masculinity among other approaches. However, the efforts made are thwarted by limited knowledge and skills in gender mainstreaming among district planning units who strongly need to strengthen their capacity to streamline key gender issues.
POLICY BRIEF ON ISSUES HINDERING WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL POLITICS IN RWANDA