Salha Kaitesi is an entrepreneur and an advocate for women empowerment. She is the founder of ‘Beauty of Rwanda’, a non-profit organisation that economically empowers women and girls in Rwanda. To further heighten her works with empowerment, Kaitesi is organising an event titled “Moving her forward.” She spoke to Society Magazine’s Donah Mbabazi.
Tell us about ‘Moving Her Forward’
The purpose of this event is to educate the public on the importance of empowering women and girls. We are using the event to emphasise that women empowerment and gender equality are crucial to creating an inclusive, open and prosperous society. It will also serve as a fund-raising event in aid of ‘Beauty of Rwanda’ and it’s scheduled to take place on December 17.
How do you think it will impact the lives of Rwandans?
Gender inequalities affect the lives of women and girls in society but many still fail to realise this. The inequalities experienced by women and girls around the world need to be put to an end, we should be working towards improving the world for both men and women and not on leaving one half behind. I feel so proud when I see the policies that the government continues to put in place to ensure gender equality, unfortunately not all Rwandans are on the same page in this regard but I hope society can see the importance of this message.
What about ‘Beauty of Rwanda’, is it based on women empowerment values too?
Beauty of Rwanda is an organisation focused on economically empowering female weavers in Rwanda. It aims at empowering rural women and girls who still remain a disadvantaged group in Rwandan society. It buys handmade crafts from this particular group and sells them to customers worldwide.
How are Rwanda’s products, especially handicrafts, received abroad?
Yes, they are highly valued and admired; especially when they are seen and touched. We seem to sell a lot more when we have stalls at markets and events.
When you started ‘Beauty of Rwanda’, what were you aiming at?
I was compelled to empower women and girl weavers after an encounter with a group of them years ago. My aim was and still is to find a market for their products outside of Rwanda so that they could earn a sustainable income. Our mission is to change the culture of dependency among rural women and to make them conscious of their abilities to support themselves, their families and their community.
So far, how has the organisation transformed the lives of these women?
The results have been seen in the quality of life that weavers and their families have. I always get feedback from them whenever I visit.
Where do you envisage ‘Beauty of Rwanda’ in the next five years?
My hope is to continue expanding the market for handcrafted products from Rwanda, ultimately empowering more Rwandan women and girls in rural areas.
Would you project crafts as a good foreign exchange income earner for the country?
Absolutely! It’s already happening. Some organisations and individuals are reaping sizeable profits in this sector. ‘Made in Rwanda’ products are picking up momentum, thanks to recent Rwandan government strategies geared towards promoting locally made products.
What do you think are the challenges women are still facing?
Women are still fighting for equal rights, not only in Rwanda but in many parts of Africa too. For instance though the Rwandan government is committed to providing equal access to education, girls seem to drop out of school more than boys, usually education can be expensive for poor families so they end up choosing to support the boys who are usually seen as future bread winners and leaders, I believe this is a thing of the past in the U.K.
What steps should the government further take to strengthen the gender equality drive?
Involving men is the key to the success of gender equality, from the grass root level all the way to the top of the social hierarchy. Gender equality is not only a woman’s s issue; it is something that affects both men and women. I don’t believe policies alone can do it. Engaging men and boys is the only way we can all start to see the value of it.
I recently read a report by Plan International involving 4000 adolescents in Rwanda - the report found that 65 per cent of them had negative attitudes towards women and girls, they also had a belief that ‘a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together’ this notion is unacceptable.