Three years ago, when she was expecting her third child, Rovence Mukashyaka went through painful circumstances. Her skin was pale from hunger for at times she survived on one meal a day, yet she still had to toil to feed her family.
As a farmer, she survived on very little income that barely catered for her family’s needs, let alone her necessities as an expectant mother.
The frail Mukashyaka later managed to birth her baby, however, the child was underweight. She too was malnourished and because she wasn’t eating well, her breastmilk production was too low to feed her baby.
Data from World Health Organisation indicates that maternal mortality is unacceptably high. About 830 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications around the world every day.
It also shows that 99 per cent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries and that maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and poorer communities.
Pregnant women, particularly those who live in rural areas, face a number of challenges throughout their pregnancy, according to Revocat Mulekatete, a community health worker in Huye District.
She says poverty is one of the major obstacles, explaining that some women find it hard to afford certain needs.
“Women find it hard to afford a balanced diet, some of them lack information on how to maintain healthy pregnancies, but as community health workers, we do our best to provide them with the much needed information,” she says.
Despite efforts of different stakeholders to improve the quality of health for pregnant women, obstacles still prevail.
It is in this line, therefore, that Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA) came up with an initiative to support expectant mothers, because just like Mukashyaka, a number of women undergo unbearable circumstances when pregnant, something which affects their health and the baby’s as well.
This new initiative ‘The Nutrition Sensitive Direct Support Scheme’ is set to transform the lives of expectant mothers, especially in the first 24 months of breastfeeding, for it is aimed at addressing poverty and health-related issues.
Beneficiaries will receive a monthly payment of Rwf7, 500, however, payments will be made on a quarterly basis.
The initiative that will come into effect this month targets women in the first category of Ubudehe with a focus on 17 districts that have high prevalence of malnutrition, stunting and poverty.
Gender activists have warmly welcomed this initiative applauding the Government for its continued effort in supporting women empowerment.
Annette Mukiga, the director of programmes at Rwanda Women Network, says this is to be applauded, adding that this scheme is viewed in the lens of social protection as well as ensuring human dignity and value for all Rwandans.
She also notes that apart from it ensuring early childhood development, it is respecting the rights of Rwandan children.
“Tax payers’ money being used as a buffer for vulnerable Rwandans, especially women, is appreciated. This is one way of helping the Rwandan woman at a time when she needs someone to lean on,” she says.
Mukiga advises that for this policy to be respected, there should be a human rights and gender sensitive way or criteria of implementing it so that people do not take the assistance for granted and abuse it by making having children a business. This is an area to think about before the policy is implemented, she adds.
“This initiative should be a part of a package to help women move out of vulnerability, like encouraging family planning and job creation to improve livelihoods so that the assistance doesn’t become a cycle of producing children for this assistance.”
Bertin Ganza, a gender activist, commends the Government for choosing to walk with women at such a delicate time in their lives.
He calls this ‘society empowerment’ for this initiative obviously goes beyond women empowerment.
“It won’t benefit women only, but their children, families, society and the country at large. The level of mortality rate will definitely decrease and this will help the country meet its sustainable development goals. We will have a healthy community and life expectancy on the other hand has a possibility of increasing,” he says.
Ganza notes that mothers-to-be are a vulnerable group, this means understanding and earnestly considering their needs.
“I am glad our government has considered this and given it special attention.”
An optimistic future ahead
Paul Rwakahungu says such initiatives are a sign that Rwandans have a great future head. Issues such as malnutrition and stunting have rigorous effects, hence tackling them with such a comprehensive approach is the best way to handle them.
A woman’s wellbeing impacts both her health during pregnancy and that of her baby. This shows how important it is for expectant mothers to be well taken care of, because without proper care, it can lead to devastating consequences, he says.
“Tackling challenges faced by pregnant women should be a priority for everyone. Improving their lives is an investment that could save the lives of many. To me, this initiative has everything to do with women empowerment and beyond. It encompasses securing a safe future, hence, this is a desired investment,” Rwakahungu says.
The challenge of this project, however, he says, is that women may misinterpret its relevance, hence chances of taking advantage of it.
“The responsible stakeholder should ensure that beneficiaries understand the targeted motive of this project. Money should be used in the right way, so beneficiaries need to have all the required information, as that’s the only way the Government can achieve the intended aim.”
Sarah Tuyishime, a mother, says this initiative has come to solve more problems than stunting and malnutrition.
“Women have been going through a lot, with this monthly allowance, I am sure many families are going to have their lives transformed and our society is going to have a better livelihood,” she says.
“I can’t help but commend this unique initiative. Our Government has done more than enough to put our needs as women at the forefront and for this, we are grateful.”
What’s your take on the new maternity monthly allowance policy?
The Government is not only empowering women with this policy, but also reaching out to poor expectant women since most mothers in the first category of Ubudehe usually can hardly support their families. Though I think this is done mainly to benefit the unborn child.
Lillian Umwali, Customer care officer – Unimoni
This scheme is going to help families address problems of malnutrition and stunting among children. It will also improve the lives of expectant women which in turn will result in safe births, hence addressing other issues such as maternal and infant mortality rates.
Livingstone Buyinza, Businessman
I think this is a very clever initiative. It is going to be a solution implemented right at the grassroots. A lot is going to be achieved as long as the implementation is planned well.
Scovia Karungi, Mother
The Government has introduced another policy that is going to improve the lives of Rwandans. I applaud this very much because such an initiative translates to improved lives, hence development of the country.
Ronald Gakuba, IT specialist