Rural women in Rwanda say a joint UN initiative is helping them both hope and plan for a better future, by empowering them with knowledge to improve and sustain their own livelihoods. The joint effort known as RWEE – which stands for Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women – is being implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Women. It aims to help rural women create jobs both on and off farms, as well as explore market opportunities and end the cycle of poverty.
KIGALI – No woman’s story is the same. For some, mastering new farming techniques has boosted harvests and incomes. For others, new business skills and access to credit have helped them start new enterprises. Whatever their path, these rural women in Rwanda have all achieved the same goal: With support from an innovative joint UN initiative, they have begun to build a better life for their families, and can now afford school fees and medical insurance that they previously could not.
In the north-eastern district of Nyagatare, the RWEE initiative provided training in modern farming techniques and post-harvest handling for 55-year old Anastasia Nyiraturatsinze and other women farmers. Anastasia – a member of the CODAR farmer’s organisation – has increased her maize production by more than 70 percent by applying what she learned about food storage and the use of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds.
With the increased income from the maize she sells, Anastasia was able to buy two additional hectares of land for farming. She also purchased five cows and upgraded her house. She is now able to pay school fees for her children, and has also managed to pay for medical insurance for her entire family.
The RWEE initiative is providing a powerful platform to empower rural women, combining efforts by four UN agencies – WFP, FAO, IFAD and UN Women – to jointly improve food and nutrition security, increase incomes, and help rural women take more control over the decisions that shape their lives. The programme is currently implemented in seven countries: Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda and is producing lessons that can strengthen the focus on rural women and girls in SDG-related initiatives, also thanks to the potential for South-South cooperation. In Rwanda, one of the seven countries where it is being implemented so far, RWEE has helped women to enhance their entrepreneurial skills and access markets for their products.
Marie-Rose Maniraguha, age 30, is a member of a women’s organisation called Tubarereneza Gisenyi, which received help to specialise in tomato farming. Marie-Rose used the money she earned selling tomatoes to purchase a sewing machine to diversify her income.
“I’m earning close to US$10 per day from fashion design activities using my machine,” Marie-Rose says. This income enables her to feed her family and respond to other domestic needs.
Under the joint project, rural women in Rwanda have gained skills, and have increased their access to agricultural inputs, finances and market information.
Skills For A Brighter Future
Judith Uwimana is a 40-year-old head of household from Nyamiyaga village in Nyaruguru district, in southern Rwanda. She used to survive on casual labour, earning less than a dollar a day.
Judith’s life began to change when FAO encouraged her to join a woman’s cooperative in her village. As part of the RWEE initiative, she learned various skills to help improve farming practices and income generation.
Judith started saving what she could of her small income. It wasn’t much – just 100 Rwandan francs, or about US$ 0.13 per week – but after two months, she was able to combine her savings with a small loan obtained through her women’s organisation. She started a cassava flour business in the local market.
It was a huge success. After only four months, she had paid back the money and doubled her capital. Her regular income has now more than tripled now that she’s a businesswoman, and Judith says she plans to build a house, pay for school fees and get medical insurance for her family.
Judith encourages rural women to join cooperatives because she says it can help them to open their minds.
The RWEE initiative has enabled these and other women in rural Rwanda to gain knowledge, income and a better understanding of their own role in Rwanda’s growth and development, as outlined in the government’s long term development priorities.