The Promise and the Reality: Women's Rights in Rwanda

Oxford Human Rights Hub Working Paper No 5

43 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2016 Last revised: 7 Jan 2016

See all articles by Pamela Abbott

Pamela Abbott

School of Education, University of Aberdeen

Dixon Malunda


Date Written: January 4, 2015


The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis was a tipping point in Rwanda accelerating moves to gender equality. Rwanda has ratified and domesticated most international laws granting women equal rights with men; and has a growing body of domestic legislation protecting gender equality grants women equal rights with men, including the right to own land and property (including land), in the family and in the public sphere. Women have made significant gains in national political representation but less so in gaining senior positions at a local level and in the private sector. The health and welfare of women and girls has improved significantly and girls are now doing as well as boys at school. However, women are still severely restricted in their ability to claim and exercise their economic rights and are subordinated and exploited in the private sphere. An economic rationale underlies the commitment of the government to gender equality, and in the absence of a strong autonomous women’s movement the struggle for gender equality is played out between the forces of traditional patriarchy (patriarchy) whose interest is in keeping women subordinate in the private sphere and forces of modernity whose interest is in the economic empowerment of women so that they contribute to the economic development of the country. The voices of women themselves are seldom heard.

Keywords: Women, gender equality, inequality, patriarchy, empowerment

JEL Classification: J16

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Pamela and Malunda, Dixon, The Promise and the Reality: Women's Rights in Rwanda (January 4, 2015). Oxford Human Rights Hub Working Paper No 5, Available at SSRN: or

Pamela Abbott (Contact Author)

School of Education, University of Aberdeen ( email )

Aberdeen, Scotland
United Kingdom

Dixon Malunda

Independent ( email )

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