Why female students should compete for URSU top seats

Some URSU members of Huye Campus headed by males on the top seats

Why should I fear competing for top positions? You and I can. There is always ability even when there are impossibilities. Only a willing heart that takes an initiative can achieve big things. Be it something people competed or feared to compete for or any other big achievement, some people will hold it. And that people might be a man or women. Beyond the limitations, a female Rwandan can be the head of the department, unlike in the past. The same position doesn’t exclude the University of Students’ Union Structure at the Huye Campus.

The University of Rwanda’s students has a union of their elected leadership. The union is called the University of Rwanda’s Students Union (URSU). It is made up of the executive committee (Guild president, vice-Guild, and their secretaries), Board of the committee (Speaker,Vice Speaker, School Representatives, Ministers, and secretaries), and Arbitration committee (President, vice president, 2 advisors and secretary), however, since its establishment, the top position of guild president has never been taken by a female student. Instead, female students were seen to take secretariat and ministerial positions at URSU.

Women did not compete for top positions since 2016

URSU represents students at all levels in and outside the campus.It also helps solve teaching, learning, and social welfare-related questions without involving campus administration except otherwise.

Jeaninne Ishimwe, a year one student in General Nursing Department says that fear, cultural limitations, shyness, and stereotypic ideas of patriarch for men are some of the reasons that hinder female students from competing for top positions. She, however, advises her fellow students to feel confident and develop leadership spirit as their male students do.

A Board Secretary at URSU, Jeannette Niyomugabo, says: “We are no longer those girls who people encourage to be confident because we are. I chose to compete for the secretariat position because I have never seen a female student competing as Guild President, Vice Guild, or Speaker of the Board. But, I encourage fellow female students to start competing for those top positions in URSU.”

The Gender Lens’ President based in the School of Journalism and Communication (SJC) at the Huye campus, Mr. Elie Antony Dukorerimana says that they are campaigning for girls to compete for top positions in URSU. He says that women are not taking top positions since 2016 so the time is now.

“We track wherever a gender gap is and address it as per our objectives and responsibilities. It can be pleasant to see our country taking the best position in gender equality in the world. University students should be mentally changed so that they can help others change. We are good agents of change in this battle. We encourage girls to stay confident,” Antony says.

In the statute of 26 June 2020 governing URSU, article 20 about the duties and responsibilities of members of the executive committee of the campus union, clarifies that the executive committee is responsible for promoting gender among students while article 8 states that URSU members are responsible for promoting gender equality and gender-based violence in UR and outside UR.

The absence of women in URSU’s top seats is not a result of exclusion but female students’ unwillingness to compete: they must take the initiative of competence.

The Minister of Gender at the University of Rwanda, Peace Umwari says they, in partnership with Gender Lens, identified the gap in top positions. However, she urges women to be confident: “Girls should take leadership initiative as of our brothers although there is a still journey to walk.  Most female students are not confident to go to top leadership positions yet no one who limited our candidacy. However, we made strides compared to the past.”

The Guild President of the UR-Huye Campus, Mr. Erickson Mugisha, says that only one female student made it to the Vice Guild presidency but others compete as secretaries and ministers. He emphasized that fear should not limit ladies. Instead “They must learn to use opportunities.”

According to the National Gender Policy of Rwanda, revised on February 2021, the first objective is strengthening gender mainstreaming and accountability across national sector policies, planning framework, and strategies in the public and private sectors. Thus, women must not take that for granted.

By Chaquilla NGABIRE