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Thinking Ahead: Women for Women Rwanda in 2021

Three years after the 1994 genocide took millions of lives in Rwanda, Women for Women International founded an office in Kigali. Since then, 78,000 women have gone through the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program and supported the reconstruction of our country to make it more equal, peaceful, and prosperous.

After 20 years, we are following the lead of the powerful women we serve and see every day and transitioning Women for Women Rwanda into an independent, national organization. The next few years will be ones of great change and growth for my team and office, but with skilled and diverse Board leadership and the support of Women for Women International, Women for Women Rwanda will remain a stakeholder in the national movement for women’s rights and empowerment.

Antoinette Uwimana, Country Director of Women for Women International - Rwanda
Antoinette Uwimana, Executive Director, Women for Women Rwanda

Mothers and Daughters: Working with Adolescent Girls

This year, we are piloting a program that reaches adolescent girls and young mothers playing the roles of mothers and wives. Though our program serves women, the difficult reality is that many teenage girls are thrust into the roles and responsibilities of womanhood and motherhood early. Adolescence is the ideal point to implement women’s empowerment programs, for this is the moment where long-term decisions that lead to life-long impacts on girls’ development and futures are made.

The pilot will provide the bundled socioeconomic skills training that 16-19-year-old girls need to guard their independence and chart a course for their life that they choose during this vulnerable time. It’s an investment in the future of these young mothers but also their children and community: As young mothers find their power, they create a ripple effect by teaching it to their children so that the women and girls will continue to grow their power and the success of their communities. We’re excited to expand our work in this way and will continue to be adapt this program moving forward based on response and outcomes.

Our staff recognize that work with adolescent girls is complex, requiring special ethical and legal considerations. Therefore, we are developing the appropriate safeguarding policies, monitoring and evaluation protocols, and staff trainings to ensure the safety of every girl we work with. During this planning process, we’re prioritizing a rights-based and survivor-centered approach, and, with the support of an adolescent-girls expert, my team is developing the pilot program through a local lens that accounts for country-specific challenges, gender norms, and traditions.

An Equal Future: Saving and Allyship

As in the rest of the world, COVID-19 continues to threaten public health, but it has given us a renewed sense of our mission. Our utmost priority is to deliver our mission each day; safety precautions have required lots of adaptations, but I’m proud to report that, this year, we have 300 participants currently enrolled and learning. In March, an additional 100 joined them and we plan to enroll 200 participants toward the middle of the year. One of our other priorities is to expand our work with the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC) as we move to independence. This year, we plan on training 100 women through the WOC to provide marketable business skills and vocations.

Members of the Isangano cooperative formed by Women for Women International graduates.
Members of the Isangano cooperative formed by Women for Women International graduates.

My team and I strive to work with women to build capacity to earn and save money, influence decisions in the home and community, and create a network to advocate and exercise human rights. In five years, we hope to train thousands of women and girls in numeracy and literacy, business skills, cooperative management, and vocations. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) will provide a savings structure for participants and graduates and business start-up kits will provide a kickstart to graduates’ futures. VSLAs are a keystone for many participants’ and graduates’ savings.

This year, Change Agents continue to host VSLAs—some digitally­—and work with local community members to ensure they have access to loans and can increase their savings.

In addition to developing business skills, my team will continue to build out our men’s engagement programming in the coming year. Collaborating with men to provide education surrounding women’s rights and engaging them as allies is vital to building an equal future for women and girls. We want to work with the men in a woman’s life to understand positive masculinity and act as agents of change in their communities. Partnering with men will give women the tools to eliminate gender-based violence (GBV) at its root. This year, we are engaging couples in dialogues around power dynamics, positive parenting and masculinity, and GBV prevention. We will also continue to work with men as allies to train them on concepts like positive masculinity, power dynamics, and behavior change toward GBV.

Growing Forward: Independence and Localization

Our transition to a national organization means that our team is changing. We now have a team of 15 and a national Board that provides guidance and fundraising connections. With a dedicated staff and active leadership, we will ensure that programming is delivered as it always has been, and our fundraising goals are met to do so.

The transition to national leadership also means potentially easier expansion and efforts to reach greater populations of women in Rwanda. Now, it’s too early to say where we will grow, but we have built a strategy to establish a stable fundraising base in order to secure funding for this kind of growth and ensure our programming in any new areas is quality and tailored to the new community. We’ve begun cultivation efforts with local partners and supporters and look forward to how our new relationships will bring greater resources to the women we serve.

Women for Women Rwanda is at a pivotal point of its life. My team is working tirelessly to maintain quality programming for the women we serve and, at the same time, transition to a fully local NGO. Women for Women Rwanda aims to evolve into an organization that centers rigorous monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning (MERL) to guide key programmatic and organizational decisions. While Women for Women Rwanda makes the transition, our goal is to use MERL best practices to record evidence of our impact, strengthen relationships with local partners, and leverage our expertise to improve and further tailor our programs.

In general, my staff and I look forward to reaching as many women as we can. We want to strengthen our capacity as a national NGO and thrive as a member of the Women for Women International family.