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Day Three in Rwanda
Today, we’ll focus on the work of nongovernmental organizations. The NGO community in Rwanda is busy helping to empower women. But what does empowerment mean in real terms? Does the word “empowerment” make any sense to you without an illustration?
So here is one—provided by ActionAid Rwanda. About a decade ago a small group of women came together, widows of the 1994 genocide or the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poor to begin with and isolated by grief. First, ActionAid worked with them to develop a skill, weaving baskets, and then to find markets for the finished product to generate a little income. Basket weaving was no mere activity to keep their hands busy. In Rwanda, a basket is a symbol of peace, and their weaving as a group symbolic of the national as well personal struggle of healing.
Together, the women gave each other support and strength and eventually they desired a more substantial income-generating activity. They formed a farm cooperative and grew maize. This led to value-addition by converting the maize into maize flower. The cooperative increased in size as they brought more broken women into the enterprise.
The more successful they were the more time it took to run the enterprise. They realized the work was interfering with their household responsibilities, particularly care giving to their children. They were less poor economically, but more time-poor than before and they found that almost as stressful as when they had no income at all.
The cooperative established a child development center so that the women did not have to choose between employment and their children’s well being. The child development center became an enterprise of its own, opening to other families in their community.
Let’s discuss another kind of empowerment activity that evolved out of their relationship with ActionAid. The women were more confident, more poised to advocate for themselves and their Rwandan sisters. ActionAid provided the women with training to engage with local leaders. The women shared their experience with government officials, particularly their struggle to achieve a balance between employment and household responsibilities, and they exhorted officials to improve policies to allow all Rwandan women to earn a decent income without sacrificing their role as mothers. Policies are improving in Rwanda, maybe not as fast as the women in this example would like, but it has not been for their lack of attention.
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