Boosting gender equality in Rwanda

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Boosting gender equality in Rwanda

Annonciata Nsekugabanye is a cattle farmer in Eastern Rwanda. She received her first cow and gender training with her husband through the IFAD-supported KWAMP project. Now they can send their four children to school, put nutritious and healthy food on the table, buy clothes for their family and afford health care.

15 October, 2015 - Gender equality and economic growth go hand in hand. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that global GDP could increase by as much as US$28 trillion or 26 per cent by 2025 if women participated in global economy identically to men.

Although the benefits of women's empowerment to the global economy are increasingly recognized, women around the world continue to encounter social, economic, cultural and legal barriers that prevent them from realizing their full potential.

This is particularly the case for women living in rural areas, where IFAD's work is focused.

Overcoming barriers in Rwanda

An IFAD-supported project in Rwanda is working with rural women and men to enable them to overcome some of those barriers.

The Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project (KWAMP) aims not only to empower the women of the region to realize their economic potential, but also to change the way community members think in order to facilitate the move towards gender equality.

Josephine Ntawumenyumwanzi is one of the project's participants. "In the past, we used to say that women do not have a remarkable role. This mind-set contributed to women feeling like they had no value," she says.

Following her family's participation in project activities, that feeling has changed: "Now we feel confident. We really feel like we are part of something," says Ntawumenyumwanzi.

Through Heifer International, a non-profit working to eradicate poverty and hunger, KWAMP distributes cows, goats and pigs to poor households that own a small plot of land and are both willing and able to take part in the project. Farmers are trained to care for their livestock properly and how to make the best use of their resources.

So far, over 3,300 households have received cows and 2,600 households have received pigs or goats. This has made a big difference in terms of family income and nutrition, particularly for vulnerable households that are headed solely by women.

Every family that receives livestock also takes part in training on gender equality.

Challenging the idea of  'women's work'

"The men tell us that the training really challenges them," says Ntawumenyumwanzi. "We all grew up with certain divisions, which we need to understand and let go of."

The gender training helps men understand how their wives are overloaded with time-consuming tasks and does away with the idea of 'women's work', creating a more cooperative approach to the family's workload.

In Rwanda the project went one step further and elected to work within family households to take a more deep-rooted approach to addressing the issues that surround entrenched gender equality.

After the unprecedented success of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) in Uganda, KWAMP decided to carry out a pilot in Kirehe, a district in eastern Rwanda.

GALS is an empowerment methodology that gives women and men more control over their lives, while promoting healthier and fairer gender relationships within the household.

A total of 40 community members took part in two GALS trainings in the district.

Lydivine Musabyimana participated along with her husband.

"Before, there was no peace in our household," Musabyimana remembers. "We fought every day. The hardest thing was that we were not thinking together."

The training helped the couple change their attitudes towards working together.

As a result, they were able to repair their house, build a latrine and buy furniture. They also constructed a shed for their cow, used its milk to feed their four children, and improved their banana production. In two years they earned about 2,000,000 Rwandan Francs (about US $2,700) together.

During the GALS training, farming families are enabled to unpack the causes and consequences of their current lives and relationships, and are handed tools to better their situation. They often discover that gender inequality at household level is one of the causes of their poverty.

One of KWAMP's most innovative ideas is the long-term involvement of community members in the local governance of the project.

KWAMP has created 18 watershed committees, groups in which local farmers voice the opinions of specific farming groups from their communities within the district.

The committees consist of about 10 members each, between 30 and 50 per cent of whom are women.

"Women are not just present, they have a voice during implementation of activities. People listen to our ideas," says Gloria Kabagurira from the Kinnyogzo watershed.

The committee members are not paid, but they benefit by increasing their knowledge, improving their farming practices and contributing to the future development of their families and communities.

As Ntawumenyumwanzi, the representative for maize farmers from the Kagogo watershed, explains: "Our daughters will know that being in the committee, we have overcome difficulties," she says.

"I am confident that their futures will be bright, seeing what their mothers have achieved, and what women can do."