Asked what drives her passion and the inspiration behind her initiative, Amina Umuhoza says she has the interests of the Rwandan woman at heart. She wants to see her empowered, hardworking and making decisions that take her to the top.
This is why she started Dukataze, an initiative that aims at empowering girls mentally, socially and economically with an underlying cause of ending teen pregnancy.
The organisation, mostly an online platform, avails services such as career guidance, counselling (on sexual reproductive health), and offers job opportunities and start up tutorials where young women access guidance on how to start up their businesses.
Dukataze turns girls into peer educators for their fellow girls.Courtesy photo
The portal also has an e-commerce component where different products made by the girls are sold.
Umuhoza says the objectives of the initiative were set in line with sustainable development goals, such as achieving universal health coverage, decent work and economic growth.
One of the components which is e-counselling was set up with an aim of turning girls into peer educators of fellow girls.
The initiative avails services such as career guidance, counselling and job opportunities. Courtesy photo
“I found out that when it comes to sexual reproductive health, girls are not free to talk to their parents, instead, find it easy to talk to their fellows,” she says. This, she believes, will be one of the ways of fighting the teen pregnancy phenomenon.
What she does is have counsellors deal with sexual reproductive sessions, and young women with decent careers and a fine reputation work as mentors for those who need career guidance.
“Girls can access these services online, they share their concerns and our service providers attend to them. We have professionals, such as doctors, who come in, in case of more practical issues,” Umuhoza explains.
Some of the issues that these girls come with include sensitisation on avoiding early pregnancy, how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, and what to do in case of unprotected sex, among others.
Girls are empowered mentally, socially and economically.
“We attend to girls who seek information on things like what they can do when they have unprotected sex and we advise them accordingly and equip them with required information on issues such as relevance of abstinence and dangers of unprotected sex. We also have career guidance where we ask the girls about their passion and motivation, and then connect the girls with people in those particular fields they are interested in for mentoring,” she says.
Why focus on teen pregnancies?
“I grew up seeing fellow girls getting pregnant but because I was still young, there was little I could do about it. I didn’t really understand why girls kept on facing this challenge, but as I grew up, I knew I had to do something about it because it is my responsibility as well to see that my fellow girls lead a virtuous life,” Umuhoza says.
She says some of the causes of this are peer pressure, lack of proper communication from parents, poverty and low self-esteem, among the girls.
“Girls attach a lot of meaning to relationships, they take dating as a milestone which shouldn’t be the case. They value materialistic things, they want men who have cars, they don’t feel like they can have their own car, and to make things worse, they give a lot of value to those things,” she notes.
“The other thing is girls are not willing to take the right steps to success. They prefer shortcuts; this is how they end up in trouble. But girls need to understand that it is okay to go slow and that they can make it on their own,” she adds.
It goes beyond reproductive health
In Rwanda, when we talk about unwanted pregnancies, the only solution that we discuss is reproductive health, but girls need more than this, says Umuhoza.
“Girls need to be empowered mentally, socially and economically. They need to know that they can stand on their own and make it in life. They need to know that they can be whoever they want and achieve whatever they want if only they develop the right mindset-an independent mindset,” she says.
Sharon Mbabazi, one of the mentors at the initiative, says Dukataze is playing a huge role in the lives of young women and girls whereby it promotes awareness and provides a platform for girls to access supportive services such as e-counselling and e-commerce.
She also says that the various opportunities, like trainings and internships, boost confidence in girls and improve their understanding and knowledge on how best to solve the problems they face in their daily lives.
Mbabazi highlights that one of the biggest challenges young girls face today is early pregnancy, which is caused by a number of things, citing poverty as the biggest cause.
“The different girls that I had a chance to talk to shared with me how they found themselves in that situation. One girl who was aged 16 said poverty was the reason she ended up sleeping with a number of men since they gave her what to eat and some little money,” she says.
She mentions another girl who said she was influenced by peer pressure, whereby other girls told her if they wanted fashionable clothes and other expensive items, the only way to get that was by sleeping with rich guys.
Lack of mentorship has a role to play in this, Mbabazi observes. “When you don’t have someone to look up to, or someone to guide you, this puts you at risk. Most of the young people don’t connect with their parents, and some parents think it’s too early to talk about sex education, forgetting that in this era, children get information at an early age— from school, social media—yet in most cases, the information they take in is wrong or not enough.”
She, therefore, says these challenges can be solved when everyone plays their part—young people, parents, mentors and different initiatives.
“This is where Dukataze steps in and empowers young girls and women. It has mentors who are always available to attend to the girls’ issues any time; it helps them develop their talents to generate an income, and by doing this we mitigate poverty.”
Parents should also be involved in this fight, Mbabazi insists. “They don’t have to wait for their child to get pregnant to talk about early pregnancy. Let’s keep the information circulating. It is also our role as young girls and women to choose the right path, to love ourselves, fight for our future and work hard to achieve our dreams.”
Girls share their views
Winnie Muyumbukazi, one of the beneficiaries, says the initiative has helped her overcome a number of challenges, including solving perplexed questions she has always had about sexual reproductive health.
Aside from that, Muyumbukazi praises the initiative for boosting her confidence, and that regardless of possible challenges, she believes she can start small and explore her abilities.
“Young women still don’t believe in themselves, some of the girls are still driven by peer pressure, as a result, they do not know how to make their own decisions. Parents do not feel free to give advice to their daughters and you find them getting information from the wrong sources,” Muyumbukazi says.
She, therefore, says Dukataze is one of the tools girls can use as a road map to guide them through.
Joseline Ihirwe has also been mentored by the initiative. She applauds the initiative for encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams and allowing them to be the best version of themselves.
She shares her experience, saying that during her mentorship period, she got a chance to find a person who understood and challenged her to give the best of herself.
“She taught me how to do an action plan so that I can keep track of time. She introduced me to new people to help me on my journey. Girls need mentorship because it helps them get new skills and grow their network.”
Ihirwe believes girls still fear to take the first step and underestimate their power to bring good in the community.
“We still think that big accomplishments are meant for boys, which is wrong. The best way to overcome this is by supporting every girl who takes an initiative, especially in terms of mentorship and financial support. I know that if there is someone who believes in you, you can have the courage to wake up tomorrow and do better,” she says.
Umuhoza plans to make this initiative bigger. She plans on helping girls from rural areas access the services by creating a chain of peer educators in each and every district. She also plans on doing community outreach where she reaches out to different schools.
First of all, we have to understand why young girls get pregnant. If parents talk to their children, they will be equipped with enough information about sexual reproductive health. Second, we need to fight the use of drugs because it is one of the causes of this, and it has become an issue among the youth, the Government and parents should lead on this one. But also, there should be grave punishments for those who impregnate young girls.
Yves Ujeneza, Businessman
Parents need to be there for their children. They need to show them love and affection, children need this kind of upbringing because if they lack this, they will end up seeking attention from all the wrong places. And this is how such issues come up.
Derrick Kabanda, Student
The youth need to understand that abstinence is the best way to fight these issues, especially when it comes to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Parents can advise them on how to remain chaste, but it all comes down to their preferences, hence, young people should be wise enough to make the right decisions.
Norah Mutesi, Accountant
Discussions around sex should not be a taboo, in fact, they need to be discussed openly. Children need this kind of information early enough to prevent them from making such errors.
Diana Tumuhairwe, Cashier