That law reflects the will of the government only, not our will
It’s a sunny afternoon in Munyiginya Sector of Rwamagana District in the east of Rwanda. Men and women are seated on the lawn of Nkomangwa Cell’s football pitch. What brings together about 300 people this afternoon is a community debate, organized by the journalists network “Pax Press” in partnership with “Rwanda Women’s Network” to discuss with citizens the new law governing family relationship adopted last September.
The main change is the fact that now both spouses – man and woman – are jointly responsible for the management of the household, including moral and material support as well as its maintenance as article 209 of the law puts it. “The performance of those duties by only one spouse is only allowed if the other spouse is unable to do so. In case of a disagreement, competent authorities make a decision.”
Elie Nizeyimana, a lawyer, explains the changes from the old law that bestowed a husband as superior over the wife in the household’s management. Some men crease and furrow, frown and murmur with grumbling grunts of dissatisfaction. “They deprived us, men, of our powers when they made the new law”, complains an old man, adding that he had never heard of the changes which he is to shoulder as the last resort.
Soon after, Munyiginya residents start sharing their thoughts on the new law. Whereas men blame the law to relegate them from their superior position in their families, women say they are not quite ready yet to take up the responsibilities as equal leaders of households.
Emmanuel Ntawuyirushintege says: “It is not possible to have two heads of one institution. The same should be respected regarding the family because it always needs a last signature by one head over any discussion to reach a decision. And this last signature will be the husband’s signature, as it always has been. That law reflects the will of the government only, not our will.”
Benithe Mukamana admits that she didn’t know about the changes in the law. “My husband is the head of the family. We don’t have the same powers and I am comfortable with that,” she tells the audience.
“Men’s powers have been reduced in favour of women, but I think the changes that will come with it are going to improve the family situation if women take up equal responsibilities as men in providing for the family,” says Theoneste Ruzindana.
Sarah Simbi, the Executive Secretary of Munyiginya Sector, is confident the revised law will bring solutions to some conflicts in families. “We used to receive conflict cases whereby men gave away or donated the family’s property without their wives’ consent. These cases will no longer come up as spouses will have to agree on everything,” she says.
Reasons behind law revision
Lawyer Nizeyimana says the law has not deprived men of their powers but gives equal responsibilities to women for the better of the family. “Women will take on more ownership of household activities and take up responsibilities to ensure its development instead of leaving heavy burden to men,” he said.
Referring to the new law’s preamble, Nizeyimana says the old law was outdated and not meeting gender equality principles including international conventions and African protocols that Rwanda has currently ratified. He says Rwanda remains the sole country in the region that has linked its family law to international standards while countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda still use culture-based laws that give men superiority over women.
The preamble stipulates that the law was revised pursuant to the Constitution of 2003 revised in 2015; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women opened for signature in New York on 18 December 1979 that Rwanda ratified in 1980; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa opened for signature in Maputo on 11 July 2003 that Rwanda ratified in 2004.
- Men and women gathered in Munyiginya Sector during the debate on the changes of law governing family and persons. Photo Jean d’Amour Mugabo
By Jean d’Amour Mugabo