A year ago, 32-year-old Francoise Gikundiro’s life was like an empty shell. Her marriage was going down the drain in the face of repeated domestic abuse, but because she didn’t want to expose her ‘private issues’ in public, she suffered in silence.
“I used to be a quiet woman; I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening in my home, even when my husband abused me, I kept it to myself. I was miserable and life only worsened, my business later collapsed and our lives entirely depended on God’s mercy,” Gikundiro says.
Her turning point in life, however, came when she joined the Poor Women Development Network (PWDN), her social well-being and economic capacity took a major turn for the better.
Through interaction with fellow women in the network, she found solace and refuge and together, they shared ideas that could help them develop in all aspects of their lives, more so financially.
“This network has helped us in so many ways; I finally got the courage to talk about the issues, I was facing in my marriage since I was educated on my rights. Through our savings, I am yet to get a loan that will help my business, which collapsed, and, I now have hope for a better future,” she says.
The founder of the initiative, Cressence Mukantabana, was moved by the number of women in need of emotional and financial support. And because of this, many women across the country have had a helping hand through her.
Poor Women Development Initiative is a non-government organisation that offers assistance to women, both in rural and urban areas, living in utter poverty. It offers women opportunities to break free of poverty’s grip and other hindrances, such as, saving, business management; awareness on gender-based violence, family planning lessons, and vocational training, among others.
Birth of the network
It was seven years ago when Mukantabana hatched the idea to reach out to women living under absolute poverty; this pushed her to start up the organisation with the aim of transforming lives of the affected women.
From her observation, a lot had been done to help women achieve the gender equality they so much needed and deserved, but to her, a piece of the puzzle was still missing.
She observed that women living in poverty were not fully catered for yet they were faced with problems on a daily basis, hence, the need to do something about it.
“For me to start this, I felt like there were women we had not reached, especially the poor. A lot of effort was being put in women having a say, which is equally important, but I felt like we were leaving out a certain group of women.
“I am very sensitive when it comes to poor women, those women can barely manage to take care of their families let alone themselves. Some don’t even know their rights; they just take each day as it comes with no plan or hope for the future, you can imagine how life works out for them. And this is why I thought that the best way to look out for them is to start up this network,” Mukantabana says.
Progress made so far
Over 3000 women across the country have so far been reached and are showing marked progress as some own businesses, some are into farming and this is evidently transforming their lives and their families at large.
Women from around Bugesera, Muhanga, Kabaya, and Nyabihu are some of those benefitting from the initiative.
Mukantabana believes that everything is all about the mindset, this is why her work starts with training the women in certain aspects and teaching them to believe that they can actually achieve whatever it is that they want.
“We show them that even with the little they have, one can actually manage to save and attain a certain goal. At first, we used to give them money but we later discovered that this wouldn’t bring about long lasting solutions, now we train them and later link them with micro-finance institutions, this way, they turn their own ideas into reality,” Mukantabana says.
Many have achieved a lot, and it’s obvious that the sky is the limit as most of the women now hold bigger aspirations for life.
“You can see that after these women get training, they start opening up, their minds start thinking beyond and they finally get out of their comfort zones. Many own farms while others run their businesses and other profitable projects,” Mukantabana says.
She hopes to continue building the capacity of the women but also, hopes that the beneficiaries will go back and share their skills with others, this way more women will be reached out to.
The founder calls for continued efforts to fight poverty but also believes that it’s now in the people’s hands to stand up and fend for themselves because the government is doing its part.
“I think the government has done enough, there are laws and programmes that facilitate women, it’s now up to women to go grab those opportunities and enjoy their rights.”
Jeanette Tumusabirerwa is now a farmer whose production and savings grow with each day. She is a happy woman who takes care of her family.
Her life, she says, has changed for the better, “Before I joined the network, I didn’t know I would actually manage something productive. But I’m now making progress and so proud of myself.”
The mother-of-three also managed to secure herself a truck which has helped in simplifying her work on the farm and in turn, increased her output.
60-year-old Patricie Musungirehe, a widow, applauds the initiative, saying that the trainings they receive have made a huge difference in their lives.
She says that aside from the trainings, the network also helps them find market for their products.
“I do handicrafts and this has enabled me to support my family in lots of ways seeing that I am the head and everything is on me. I have been with this network for so many years and it has really transformed my life. I have managed to save and construct a house too,” Musungirehe says.
HOW CAN WOMEN BE HELPED OUT OF POVERTY?
Debby Karemera, Programme Officer-Never Again Rwanda
For starters, they would need to be empowered with skills in developing social and economic activities and they would also need start-up capital. In most cases, it would be better to ask them what they are comfortable with, for instance, if its farming or business, because if you impose an initiative they may not have as much ownership.
Yves Ujeneza, Entrepreneur
I think training more women to be self-resilient works better because this way, they gain the confidence to spread their wings, whether it’s venturing into business or other projects. With this, they can pull themselves out of poverty.
Frank Intare, Cashier - Access Bank
According to me, women shouldn’t be given any favours, instead, be provided with the necessary skills just like men are. I believe that with the right skills, women are capable of performing better than men, they just need to boost their confidence and with that, scale to greater heights.
Sharifah Umuhoza, Former Miss Rwanda contestant
Women can come out of poverty by using opportunities surrounding them, like joining cooperatives that will help them save and eventually, be able to start up small businesses. A woman’s development means the well-being for her and the family; hence, they need to get all the support they need.