October 15 marked the International Day of Rural Women, and Rwanda, together with the rest of the world, celebrated the achievements in this aspect and sought to find solutions to the challenges women in rural areas face.
Rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population, according to The United Nations. In developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force, and produce, process and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security.
Anselme Rurangwa, the Director of Women Empowerment and Mobilisation at the National Women Council, says that rural women are still faced with day-to-day challenges.
He says the workload of the entire family is mostly handled by women; taking care of the children, attending to the farm, doing house chores, and on top of that, caring for their husbands.
This gives them no space to plan for the future or even start up and manage a small business. And this makes them practically dependent on their husbands for other needs. It is this dependency that sometimes brings about domestic abuse. Most women, Rurangwa says, are left with little or even no choice but to endure abusive marriages as a result.
“Women almost take care of their families all by themselves while the men are out. Some men are not supportive partners, some even go on a drinking spree and abuse their wives, it’s a serious issue,” he says.
Rurangwa says that the Council mostly does its job through mobilisation, and called on other stakeholders to join in the effort to try to reverse the trend.
Seven women are appointed at all the grassroots levels – from the village to the district level – and they help in mobilising masses for a positive change.
The NWC official says that families are encouraged to be a part of such campaigns and programmes as Umugoroba w’Ababyeyi (parents’ evening forum) because it is through such platforms that issues affecting families can be brought to light and addressed by members of the community.
But there are concerns that these forums are widely regarded as meant for women only.
“Most men think that such platforms are for women only, which isn’t the case, men have a stake in this, they have a major role to play to turn around the situation, married couples should be attending these conversations together, men and women have equal obligations to advance their families, no one should be a subordinate of the other.”
He added: “We want men to be a part of this fight, we believe a proper partnership between a man and wife can help deal with challenges like child upbringing, and that way, issues like street children will be curbed.”
Clementine Mushimiyimana, a community health worker in Save Sector in Gisagara District, says that rural women have dreams of being financially stable. But how to get there is the main problem.
She says that capital, lack of skills and fear that’s rooted in a culture that portrays a woman as inherently submissive, are a major hindrance.
“Poverty is still a big issue for rural women and what makes matters worse is that some men are not supportive at all. They want their wives to be in the kitchen, this brings about disagreements and sometimes abuse,” Mushimiyimana says.
When it comes to the general welfare of households, like the number of children or even child spacing, the rural woman barely has a say on this, some men even go the extent of preventing their wives from using family planning methods, Mushimiyimana says.
She says that regardless of the numerous training programmes that have been extended to families, women still get unplanned pregnancies and subsequently, children who the families can barely take care of.
This, in effect, affects the family’s welfare.
Dr Mathias Gakwerere, from of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), says that the rural woman meets lots of challenges when it comes to making decisions in regards to family planning.
He points out that there are misconceptions around family planning methods as some women think that they may cause infertility, side effects such as gaining weight, decreased vaginal secretions, as well as negative religious beliefs on modern methods.
All this prevents families from making the right decisions, he says.
“UNFPA supports health facilities in rural areas to combat these misconceptions by building the capacity of health providers so they gain necessary skills to educate the women in need of contraceptives,” Dr Gakwerere says.
“In addition to that, we ensure the availability of all methods in all health facilities. UNFPA supports the production of guidelines, tools and materials used in family planning provision, both at health facility and community levels for easier access,” he adds.
What others say
Florence Numukobwa, a resident of Gahini in Kayonza District in Eastern Province, says that life in a rural area is no walk in the park, pointing out that raising her five children has been a hustle.
“My husband and I mostly depend on farming; we try to make a decent living through a small business we own, however life is still hard,” she says.
Numukobwa says that even the little they have managed to accomplish is because of the strong relationship they hold as a couple, and urges other families to always stand together no matter the circumstances.
“Our biggest issue in rural areas is poverty but the other issue that’s killing families silently is inequality. Some men still have old mentalities of heading families alone whereby they can’t even let their wives have a say, this isn’t good and it brings about arguments in a home,” Numukobwa says.
She calls upon people to endeavour to attend parents’ and family forums that are organised at the village level.
Fred Byagatonda agrees with his wife Numukobwa, saying that for any family to prosper, there must be mutual understanding and respect between the couple.
He says that as long as there is absence of respect, disagreements are bound to arise and this will affect the welfare of the home.
“My wife and I always have to discuss matters together before any decision is taken. I cannot make decisions for the home unaided, and this has helped us a lot in many ways,” Byagatonda says.
He advises other couples to do the same because it’s the only way a family can grow.
Claudine Musabyimana, a resident of Gakenke, says it’s women who mostly suffer in the rural setting.
She says that women tend to shoulder burdens because of the endless responsibilities they have to deal with on a daily basis.
“In addition to the not-so-rosy life, we sometimes have to endure partners who are not supportive in any way and this makes it even harder. Men need to be educated on the benefits of equality in a home; this will help change everything,” Musabyimana says.
For Peresi Nyiraneza, from Gahini, her dream is to see the rural woman take giant steps in the economic development area.
She says that her pride would be in seeing women owning successful businesses because this will give them a sense of independence.
“Some women in rural areas endure abusive marriages because they don’t have the means to sustain themselves. But I believe if women were empowered economically, life would change for the better,” she says.
HOW CAN RURAL WOMEN BE EMPOWERED?
Mary Murerwa, communications officer
Many rural women are not educated and lack awareness on the ongoing development projects in the country. I believe that by sensitising and enlightening them on the diverse development projects and empowerment programmes available, a positive change is possible. We need to reach out to them on how they can make use of their abilities, and also, facilitate them with several skills and knowledge that will help them develop.
Phiona Mutesi, service centre agent
Social services are paramount for any area to achieve its desired development. Putting in place different social services in rural areas will act as a channel for rural women to carry out productive activities that will eventually benefit them and their families and improve their standards of living. Social services such as modern markets and infrastructure would bring tangible achievements towards uplifting rural women.
Alice Umulisa, public relations officer
A sure way to empower rural women is by setting up empowerment projects and training them. However, the absence of a positive attitude would kill progress. Women need to believe in themselves more. The most important thing is to talk to them and change their attitude; help them aim higher and boost their self-esteem. With confidence, they can succeed in whatever they set their minds to, eventually building a foundation for development.
Jane Kaihangwe, project coordinator
Development campaigns and initiatives should be taken to rural women in their communities to enlighten them on how they can improve their standards of living. The government, for instance, should invest in rural women’s development ventures, and expose them to workshops, seminars and trainings so that they can acquire skills to help them make the most out of their lives. Women should be inspired to work together, and combine their efforts towards achieving the common goal.