From time immemorial, social and economic functions such as overseeing the livestock and breadwinning were reserved for men, whereas women looked after the household and raised children.
After the day’s chores, women put their creativity to the test through basket weaving. Without exaggeration, the product was always a beautifully woven ‘gaseke’, a neat and unique small basket that ornamented most Rwandan households.
Now this pastime has become a serious economic activity in the country. The Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA) helps to market and sell the Gaseke to the rest of the world.
The world’s largest department stores in the United States took the deal to market and sell the ‘Agaseke’, and over 850 stores are engaged in these sales.
The business has managed to keep pace with efforts to emancipate women in all spheres of life. Above all, it has managed to answer the most vexing issue of rural poverty.
It is on record today that the poorest woman in rural Rwanda has the capacity to earn Frw30,000 a month from Agaseke business. Women in all districts of the country have been mobilised and work in groups daily, to weave baskets.
This offers a landmark success in the history of Rwanda and an economic revolution, which has gained a lot of recognition.
Agaseke is not only admired for its aesthetic appearance, but for its ability to generate income to the stakeholders in particular and the country in general.
Women in Rwanda, like in many other sub-Saharan Africa, have been vulnerable to a number of socio-economic problems.
These include the social stereotypes, and prejudice. That is why the economic gap between men and women remained wide until recently.
Today, however, the trend is changing and women are about to ‘foot’ men in all spheres of life. The business has had great significance in the government’s efforts to register a reasonable socio-economic equilibrium in the society.
Economic emancipation cannot be done in isolation, and certain social factors have to come into play. The said business therefore, succeeded because it catered for the two factors at once.
The failure of other efforts to narrow the gap was due to the fact that they failed to identify the cause and effect relationship that exists between economic and social factors of development.
This is how Agaseke business stole the show. Why has the project succeeded?
There are a number of factors that attest to the success; traditionally, weaving of any kind was a women affair, except in some isolated cases. When the business was rejuvenated a couple of years ago, only women embraced it.
Nevertheless, they never expected it to excel to the level it has today. But slowly the business gained momentum and started exporting thousands of well-finished baskets to Europe and America.
Interestingly, the success of the business, did not only give economic prosperity to the society, but also the desired psychological confidence to the women who are involved.
This, sometimes called motivation, is what is needed for any business venture to succeed. The rural woman felt so happy to see her basket being admired and sold on the international market.
This was so great to a person the society had told that she was ‘useless’. You know how our social stereotypes used to demean women’s ability to perform. It is against this background that Agaseke stretched its wings to all districts in the country.
A number of similar projects mushroomed in all villages and hardworking women continue to reap reasonable profits today. On the other hand, women have managed to check the dependence syndrome that has been their undoing for ages.
A rural woman can now buy some of the basic needs without waiting for the husband’s approval or disapproval. In this way, the rural woman has gained much respect from the husband who used to see her as useless in terms of production.
Men have been correctly accused of disrespecting their wives. But to some extent we should not blame men, but the society in which they live. The society for example, has men who are not well educated and cannot therefore fully access nor heed any counselling, be it in regard to development, emancipation or family planning.
They thus produce many children they cannot afford to feed and turn desperate! Unfortunately, the despair is turned to their immediate neighbours who are their wives. Such are the ugly scenarios that had characterised rural families for long, where the victim was always the wife due to her meek and “unproductive” role.
Agaseke has therefore managed to address most of these socio-economic issues by empowering the most underprivileged rural woman.