Nine years ago, Iberata Mukashyaka’s family lived in extreme poverty. With no stable source of income, her children often went hungry and she could barely afford to clothe or give them an education.
Her husband is handicapped, he was unable to support them, and so for years, Mukashyaka spent sleepless nights wondering what to do about their situation.
She tried a little farming, and even sold avocados on the streets of Tumba in Huye District. But it wasn’t enough.
In 2009, she joined Strive Foundation Rwanda (SFR), a non-government organisation that works towards sustainable social welfare, integration and development of vulnerable people.
Under the organisation’s course called Women Economic Empowerment Program, Mukashyaka, alongside other women in Huye District, had their lives transformed from poverty to economic empowerment and self-reliance.
The women practice many activities, from brick-laying and making roofing tiles, to fish farming, weaving, beekeeping and rice growing, among other activities.
The women are also encouraged to initiate circling credit in their respective cooperatives as saving funds, and, for emergency support. This has contributed to the financial security of the women and their families.
Mukashyaka does brick-laying and she says that the money she makes from this helps support her family.
“We pay school fees for our children, we are able to pay for health insurance and we also save some money in our accounts,” she says.
The 46-year-old takes pride in the fact that all members of the group have assets to their names. “We have farms and we also rear animals; our cooperative is mostly comprised of single mothers but each one of us has become self-reliant.
“Our lives have been transformed; some were on the streets, others were sex workers but look how far we have come. We all work hard and manage to get everything we need,” she says.
Specioza Niwemariya says she too is living a satisfied life, thanks to the women empowerment programme.
She lost her husband, and so the 56-year-old had to singlehandedly take care of her family.
She also joined the organisation in 2009 and has managed to accomplish goals she never thought she would.
Her children are done with school, and some have families of their own.
“I constructed a house, I have a farm and managed to educate my children. I feel proud because even though I am a widow, I have managed to take good care of my family,” she says.
She is mostly a fish farmer. But she also rears rabbits and cattle on her farm in Irango, Huye District.
Bernard Muramira, the organisation’s executive director, says their objective is to make it possible for vulnerable women in the community to participate in building society and fighting poverty.
“Our main focus is to aid vulnerable women and children who are in ubudehe 1 (classification of poverty levels; ubudehe 1 being those in abject poverty) mainly, and with this, we empower these women through training and skills development,” he says.
Muramira believes that when women are able to participate in the building of the economy, their needs and rights are heard and enforced. “This means women’s safety and welfare will improve and their ability to be in control of their own lives will increase,” he says.
Established in 2003, SFR was set up to promote gender equality, fight gender-based and domestic violence, support orphans and other vulnerable children.
Its focus was also on capacity building of vulnerable women by equipping them with skills that will get them out of poverty. This is done through the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.
Though SFR operates in 16 districts, this particular programme is implemented in Huye District, Southern Province.
The programme consists of two cooperatives; Amahoro and Ingoro Ihuza Ababyeyi.
In the Amahoro Cooperative, women mainly focus on fish farming. The organisation constructed water reservoirs, bought 4000 fingerlings, and fish food as well. It also built a passage which reserves water for fish ponds and hired a social worker to supervise and follow up every activity.
Muramira says that they have ensured continuous establishment of capacity building for the cooperative members through training in fish farming, cooperative management, literacy (reading and writing), financial management and marketing.
Though this project is still at its implementation stage, the women are expecting to have their first harvest soon of about 60,000 fish.
Ingoro Ihuje Ababyeyi, the other cooperative, has a variety of economic activities including brick laying, and farming where women grow rice and vegetables.
Muramira is proud of what the women have achieved so far.
“The women are stabilising, they are able to pay for medical insurance for their families. Their children are in school and they have a steady income, which has improved their standard of living,” he says.
He says that it is the achievements registered by these women that keep them going, for all they strive for is women empowerment.
Women’s economic empowerment is truly important in achieving progress. When women do not have the chance to contribute to society, chances for growth will be limited because they have the ability.Ronnie Kibagajjo, Student
Rwandan population is composed of mostly women; having such a big number with limited economic activity would mean high rates of poverty. So, empowering women economically is the finest tool in the fight against poverty.Ismail Itinywe, Businessman
Empowering a woman means empowering the whole family and society at large, which ensures improved standards of living. I also think it helps curb the rates of domestic or gender-based violence.Marita Nyirabareba, Housewife
Empowering women economically is one way to foster gender equality. With this, they are able to take part in the decision making of a family and also have a chance to be self-reliant.Jackline Mutwarekazi, Farmer