Monday, December 8, 2014

The personal mastery of Virginie

 Virginie at first appeared too quiet and a bit un-involved for a person picked to represent her organization in the Rwandan version of feminist leadership training under the ACE Program.

But her quietness could be attributed to the fact that she only had a smattering knowledge of English to fully feel involved. However, this was no deterrence to her participation. She requested to express herself in Kinyarwanda as the training began, while eager colleagues were on hand to translate the proceedings which were conducted in English.
One of the hall marks of the leadership training involves personal mastery, which has to begin with self discovery. It is anchored on the notion that understanding oneself can lead to personal growth by being able to face yourself for who you are and aspire to become. This is by building on your strengths and improving on your weaknesses for personal transformation.

It was during the sessions in personal mastery that, in facing herself by narrating the situation that characterized her life, Virginie defined one of the most poignant moments of the workshop.

Every woman has her story. Yet, hers was many women’s story; the story of abuse and dis-empowerment across Africa and the world that makes it a universal women’s issue. Virginie encapsulated this when she broke down in tears recounting the emotional violence she has experienced in her own home.

By virtue of only being able to express herself in Kinyarwanda, she was in many ways symbolic of the situation of the Rwandan woman and the oppressive patriarchal structures she has had to endure in her socio-cultural milieu. She demonstrated not only her frustrations in personal empowerment, but the frustrations most Rwanda women must face in the existing barriers to effective leadership and personal advancement that continue to be entrenched in cultural norms and are perpetuated patriarchal hierarchies. Traditional social and gender norms continue to perceive women as inferior, while there is limited awareness on human rights.

Yet, Virginie is an accomplished leader, despite the abuse and humiliation she suffered in her domestic situation.

“I am the leader of the ruling political party in my community, as well as the leader of my women’s group and, among others, of the parents’ forum at my children’s school,” she had explained without seeming to quite appreciate the personal achievement.
The irony was that this was yet another exemplification of Rwandan women and their leadership potential despite having to contend with patriarchal structures that tend to keep them down, paradoxically in a policy climate and political will that champions women.
But the moral of Virginie’s story was that, like most of the participants at the workshop, she was not aware of herself as a leader, as if it was a favor, and appeared to have resigned herself to her fate in her colleagues’ vote and realization of her potential to thrust her on the pedestal to lead them.

The feminist leadership training was about unlocking the leadership potential by making it obvious that it is inherent in women to be effective leaders and claim their right as such in defiance of the patriarchal hierarchies.

By the end of the workshop Virginie was a changed and empowered woman. For one who could only express herself in Kinyarwanda, she vowed to express herself in English henceforth. Speaking in English symbolized her empowerment to overcome any of her life’s hurdles; she demonstrated how “the personal is political” in learning to assert one’s rights through self awareness and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to build on our strengths in our various socio-cultural and political contexts towards our individual and collective empowerment.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NOTHING WILL STOP ME!


Who am I?

I am Agness Chindimba, a young feminist and a disability rights activist from Zimbabwe. I am also a mother and a wife. I have been deaf since the age of 14.Many people think that I am outspoken, but I believe in speaking my mind. If someone is wrong I believe I should tell them so. I have my opinions on many issues and I believe that my voice should be heard as well. I also believe that it is my duty to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, for whatever reason. I have values and principles, I do not believe I should compromise on these just to please someone;my values define who I am; a strong African woman.

My Passion for advocacy for people with disabilities

My first interaction with deaf people was in 2000 when I was transferred to a special school for the deaf. When I became deaf in 1995, I continued to learn in a mainstream setting; my mind was opened to the trials and tribulations that the young deaf girls went through on a day to day basis as they struggled to be understood by a system that was ignorant of their needs.

After I finished my studies I began working with deaf children. I would be called on several occasions to help the police with communication with deaf girls who had been sexually abused. From that point the challenges that these deaf girls faced became my own. It was then that I decided to take up the cause of the deaf girls and other women with disabilities. I could speak and write but most of the deaf girls struggled to be understood because those who were supposed to help them could not understand their language. However what inspired me most was to make a difference in someone else`s life

Living with a disability myself has inspired me to be an activist so that the future generation of women with disabilities will not face the same challenges that we are facing today; especially challenges of exclusion.Being Deaf motivated me a lot as I feel that I understand people with disabilities better especially women and children because I experience the same things they go through; it is different from someone who can only imagine what or how it feels.My love for people is the one thing that keeps me going.

Reflecting on the feminist facilitation course I attended in June 2013

It really started in 2010 when I applied and I was accepted into the Young Feminist Leadership Course that was organized by Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) and Africa University. The intensive course gave us a thorough grounding in concepts of Feminism; I was able to speak from a position of knowledge when I spoke out about issues that affected women with disabilities. As a follow up to the 2010 course, the feminist facilitation workshop organized by OSISA and Akina Mama waAfrika (AMwA) in 2013 further enhanced my skills especially on facilitating feminism learning to other young women with disabilities.

The workshop has greatly influenced my work in so many ways, especially through raising my confidenceand enhanced my facilitation skills. It has also encouraged me to think outside the box and be innovative in order to find solutions to the problems I face or those that face the disabled community in my country and beyond. Being with the other young feminists during the facilitation workshop also helped me “recharge my batteries” and made me see things in perspective. I learnt a lot from the facilitators and the other young feminists.


Following the workshop I organized a training for 10 deaf women from across the country on feminism concepts that was sponsored by AMwA in partnership with OSISA as part of the post training activities. This created an opportunity to not only practice my skills and knowledge in feminist facilitation but also enabled me transfer feminism learning to other young deaf women in my community.  And we are now working at building a movement of young deaf women in the country.

Further I, with others, founded an organisation, Deaf Women Included, which advocates for the inclusion of deaf women in issues that affect them. We hosted forums and workshops, initially at the major urban centres on participation of deaf women in formulation of policies that affect them. I must say I am putting the facilitation skills I learnt to good use.

Some of the success stories of my activism since I started working with this constituency

It were concerted efforts of the  disability rights movement in Zimbabwe  that led to the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by His Excellency, President Robert Mugabe on 23rd September 2013, and I am proud to have been part of this movement. For the deaf people in Zimbabwe, the adoption of the new Constitution for the country in March 2013 also saw the Sign Language being accorded official language status. These are achievements that we have been celebrating as both instruments offer us more opportunities for advocacy.

Our organisation, Deaf Women Included, has experienced notable growth in less than a year of operations. Through our projects on participation we have mobilized young deaf women from across the country so that their voices can be heard. This project is ongoing. We are also ensuring that young women with disabilities have information on Gender Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health. Personally I have been using every available opportunity to fight for the inclusion of women with disabilities into the mainstream feminist movement. And I have written an article about the same in the past.

My call to African governments in the wake of the Post 2015 Agenda

It is encouraging that disability mainstreaming has been recognized in the post 2015 development agenda. The governments realized that by leaving disability out of the development framework the chances of meeting the development targets were limited. Persons with disabilities constitute 15% of the global population so by leaving out this key population component, the chances of reaching the development goals were slim. I think African governments should commit in ensuring that the rights of its disabled citizens are respected,more so for women and children. We hope that such commitments will be operationalized and not left on paper only. I feel that the women and children with disabilities are the most affected and the most vulnerable first because they are women and second because they are disabled and children because they are defenseless hence they need more protection from the governments.

New challenges and new opportunities facing African Women’s organizing

While we have achieved major strides as African women, there are still challenges ahead. I think that our society still looks at strong African women with suspicion. However we must still forge ahead with the struggle for social justice. It is also not enough when governments pay lip service to issues affecting women.
African women still need to be economically empowered and we need to make sure that we keep in touch with the grassroots and not to have a situation whereby those fighting for women’s rights become divorced from the women at the grassroots. I still would like to see the women’s rights movement embracing women with disabilities. Poverty remains a reality among women with disabilities. Ourwomen are also lacking when it comes to the issue of participating in key issues such as economic, social and political as a result this is a hindrance to development.

For women with disabilities in particular, I think the signing and ratification of the United Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a number of African governments is a major opportunity. We need to hold those in authority to their commitments. I also think that issues of gender are getting to be understood in the corridors of power so African women need to take advantage of such developments. The rise of the feminist movement is also giving women an opportunity to liberate themselves from the patriarchal system.

Advise for any young women interested in leadership

To the young women who are interested in leadership; I say do not let anyone discourage you for you are a very strong woman who can make a difference so you should go for it. I also believe that no one should be discouraged from taking up a cause that they believe in. Leadership requires commitment to a cause. Leadership is also about sacrifice. It is important to find mentors within our networks who can guide you on the leadership journey.

Celebrating my works

I would like to be remembered as a woman of strength who had passion for rights of women with disabilities and persons with disabilities in general.



AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

www.iie.org/
www.iie.org/en/Programs/ACE-for-Womens-Leadership



Monday, November 3, 2014

DETERMINED TO SUCCEED
My name is Pauline Atieno and I am 19 years old. If I could describe myself in three words, I would say; smart, driven and respectful. I started playing football at an early age till this day I still get an adrenaline rush every time I play or even thinking about it.  I began playing football in 2007 for Binti Football Club while still in primary school at that time we were only 6 girls on team. When Binti started, many girls were not playing football because most of our parents did not want us to play football. They thought it would distract us from our studies and household chores or make us engage in “bad things”. Later on my mother came to realize that I was a talented footballer and football was not going to prevent me from working hard in school.
Being in Binti has been a great experience for me. Being the only girl in my family it was Binti that gave me other sisters who I can share my experiences with. I have been exposed to different people and places. I have gone for learning exchanges with girls from various parts on the country and I came to realise that many adolescent girls experience similar challenges. Through Binti I was able to secure a scholarship to study at Matuu Girls High school and I am currently at Kenyatta University on a football scholarship studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. No one in my family has ever attended university I am not only the first one but a girl for that matter. This is a huge achievement for me and being at Binti made me prove the community wrong as they never thought we could study and play football.  
Over the years my leadership skills have been sharpened through the Binti empowerment sessions.  In 2012 I was trained as a peer educator during the YWLI Adolescent Girls Leadership Camp.  This training enabled me to facilitate sessions at YWLI outreach projects as well as during sessions and with other young girls in the community.
My facilitation skills have grown tremendously. I usually use the YWLI adolescent curriculum as a guide during my sessions, my favourite topic in the curriculum is leadership. When facilitating I have noticed how the participants really enjoy the activities especially the games part and I must say that’s my favourite part too.
“I would really like to see more girls at the community empowered and informed with accurate information, this is my driving force to continue with my peer education


Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.
www.iie.org/
www.iie.org/en/Programs/ACE-for-Womens-Leadership
www.ywli.org  

Monday, October 27, 2014

“Aim High, Value Time and Convert it to Cash"

Bizunesh Geberehiwot is well known for her excellent public speaking. She served in a Cooperative for six years as a chairperson. Currently she is serving the same Cooperative as a member of the Control Committee. She will tell us her story in short as follows:

My name is Bizunesh Geberehiwot. I was born in February 1957 in Addis Ababa. I am the first child for my parents. I completed elementary school and as I passed the 8th grade national exam, I was transferred to Teferi Mekonen School.  I met my husband when I was a 7th grade student. At that time he was a famous sports man and a boxer. We met when he was going for training and I was on my way to school. When we first met, I was only 16 years old. Since I was in love with him I dropped out of school and married him in accordance with the traditional ceremony.

I then gave birth to four children. When I lived with my parents, I was a spoiled child and I was not able to cope up with the changes and responsibilities I faced in a married life. My husband’s monthly earning was 25 birr (~$2.5) . His salary was not sufficient to support us. As a result it was inevitable for me to start working. I started working in Nifas Silk Thread Factory. My pay was 75 cents (~$.075%) per day. Still our earning was not balanced with our demands. In addition to working there, I used to take different goods to the factory, sell them on credit and collect the money when the employees collect their salaries. Though I did not have much money I managed to send my children to school.

Since my husband stopped contributing money for the household, I decided to go to the sports commission and ask for my share from his salary and stopped waiting for him to give me money every month. Unfortunately my husband passed away in 1999. After his death I was faced with hardship. All my family members had passed away and nobody was by my side.  At that time it used to take two years to authenticate a retirement benefit of one’s spouse. Through that period of time we were in a difficult condition. On top of everything that was happening to me, the factory I was working in was bankrupted and I was laid off.


It was at this moment of hardship that Women in Self Employment (WISE) came in to my life, in 2005. I never was fan of taking credit. However, before providing us with any credit, WISE gave us a training on how to invest, save and manage money, and how to develop speaking skills. With 55 members in it, the  Saving and Credit Cooperative I was a member of was established and I was elected as its first chairperson. After that, I started noticing changes in myself. I felt as if I just started living. Even though I knew how to read, I knew nothing about investment, profit, loss and the value of my labor.

Based on the knowledge I have acquired from WISE, I took my first round of loan. I started trading twice a week in a certain area in Addis. Currently I have goods worth over 6000 birr ($316) at my kiosk in Addis.

My son was unemployed hence I opened a barber shop for him and now he is working successfully. My first child runs a beauty salon for women in the house I inherited from my parents.  The asset we have is estimated to be more than 80,000 birr ($4211) and we have created job opportunities for three people.

In an Innovative and Viable Business Idea’s Competition, which was organized by WISE in 2010, I competed and won a prize of birr 5000($263). I also received 200 ($10.5) and 300 birr ($15.8) awards from two competitions that took place in our Cooperative. Before, I never had speaking skills; now I am capable of speaking in public and sharing my experience to women like me in different forums and events.

I do not have words to express what I feel about WISE.  I was a woman who used to borrow money in exchange for my gold earrings. Today I am not only helping myself but also others. I have savings in two different places, one in my Cooperative, I save around 356 birr ($18.7) every week.

I am now responsible for controlling the activities in my Cooperative. I make sure that no amount of money is withdrawn from the Cooperative for a reason which is not convincing. I have taken a 33,000 birr ($1737) loan and my saving in the association has reached 11,000 birr ($579). My long term plan is to purchase a vehicle. The message I want to pass on to other women is that there is no way a woman who is trained and assisted by WISE could not change if she is open-minded.  In addition, we women have to be strong and persistent in what we have started. We need to aim high to achieve the end goal. We need to value time and convert it to cash.
       

   Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.
www.wise.org.et/                                                                                                     


Monday, August 18, 2014

“More Organizations like WISE,  less Poverty”

I was born in 1963 in Gojam region, in an area called Bure. I was the third child for my family. My father was a merchant and had a low value for education. However, with my own determination, I studied until 11th grade. In between, my parents forced me to stop going to school and get married. After getting married, I gave birth to two kids. Even though I have children, I decided I should still go to school and complete high school. I did and I went further and worked on my diploma. Since I was married against my will, I felt pressured; I filed for divorce and migrated to Addis Ababa. 

When I came to Addis Ababa, I came with the hope of a better life in mind. However, situations turned out differently. I started my life in the city by working as a cashier in a hotel.  While working in the hotel, I met my second husband. We got married in 1987 and started living together. I left my job and after that I started facing difficulties.  Even though my husband was providing me with the things I needed in the house; I was not able to have enough cash on my hand. As my father was a merchant, I grew up having cash on my hand. Therefore I was not able to cope with the changes I faced. It became impossible for me to leave my house and socialize. My self-esteem became very low and started believing that this was my destiny.

I lived in a kebele (district) where the head was a woman. Frequently, I used to come in contact with her and mention to her that I could be the chair of the women’s association if it were strongly organized. I did this because I am educated and believed that I should not simply stay home; I was looking for an opportunity to leave the house and do something productive.  Fortunately, one person came to my house and informed me that a new institution named Women in Self Employment (WISE) has been established. I was very happy when we were gathered and given orientation about the programme.

In 2009, I became a member of the cooperative established. In the process of taking training on Basic Business Skills, I started envisioning a bright future. I began to think that it all happened for me. All the trainings given were engraved in my heart. With the idea of working on what is not there in mind, I took the first round of loan and started selling spiced butter. Although it was successful, it was exhausting and as a result I decided to stop and shift to street vending which was for the moment making and selling potato chips. In a very short period of time, the business became profitable. So I thought to myself, if it is this profitable, I should not be working on the street.

I then made potato chips, packed them in 100 pieces of plastic bag, wrote my name and phone number. I told my children to go around and distribute them for free. On that same day, 36 customers phoned and placed their orders. I delivered the orders and after that Hiwot Chips became well known in the area. In 2008, in a competition of innovative and variable business ideas, I made potato porridge from the starch of the potato and also made food for cattle from the peels of the potatoes. I won the competition and got a prize of 30,000 birr ($1546). With the money I was awarded, I rented a hotel in Chancho town and invested there successfully for two years. In addition to this I bought a plot of land and started a potato farm. 

The competition’s benefit was not limited to financial award only, but also linked me with different organizations and built up my network. For instance, I got in to Holeta Research Center and was part of a research conducted about the food content of potato starch. In addition, with partners of WISE, such as Concern Ethiopia, I was invited to travel to Wolaita and Wolo to share my experience with others. Furthermore, I also gave training to farmers on the benefits of potato and other ways of cooking it besides boiling and cooking it in to a stew. I believe I am where I am right now because of what I have gained from the trainings on Creative Thinking given by WISE. 

In 2013 I also won a second place in the competition. By using used papers, I invented a charcoal lighter and won a 10,000 birr ($ 515) prize. I was initiated to make the invention from the tip I was given on a WISE training. We were thought that creativity is the solution for a problem. In the same year, in a Bazaar and Exhibition organized by WISE for Christmas, I was able to make 2000 birr ($103) by selling my invention.

I am now done paying off debt, which was 16,000 birr ($825). Currently, I am preparing to take the next round of loan. The saving amount I now have in my cooperative is around 15,000 birr ($773). Besides what I save in the bank, I have bought shares in Addis International Bank. At this moment, I am able to help more than 100 destitute children who have lost both parents. When EdegetBer Saving and Credit Cooperative was established, I served as the Chairperson of the cooperative for two years and later I also served as its Vice chairperson. Currently, though I have transferred my position to others, I am contributing to my cooperative by encouraging other women to join and persuading those who are thinking of leaving the cooperative to stay.

My plan for the future is to facilitate ways to enable me take my next round of loan, in order to pursue and upgrade my inventions, specially the second one. The message I would like to pass on is that there are so many women out there who have the knowledge but not the resource and the knowhow to convert what they have to action. Though WISE is now working with these kinds of women, this Organization alone cannot reach every woman. I suggest; if other organizations with a vision similar to WISE are established, it would be possible to eradicate poverty in a short period of time.

                                                                        HiwotMammo
From EdegetBer Saving and Credit Cooperative

                                                                   Kirkos Sub-city


Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I grew up in Nairobi, lived in langata for the better part of my childhood years and still live in langata. We are a family of five. I have two brothers whom I love dearly. One is in form four the other is in his first year of a foundation course.

Growing up I loved reading to this day I still love to read. I loved the big old novels with very tiny font; those took a while to finish and were much more interesting. I loved swimming and was very good at it can’t say am still good at it I have not been at it for a while.  I was loud as a child I am still loud, I was strong willed and always spoke my mind. I still have more of those characteristics and I believe they are my best qualities.

I was not really good at math but really good in English and history. Those were my favorite subjects, I guess mostly,because I found reading much easier than calculating and figuring out how to use formulas.  Even as I progressed to high school, my strengths included English and history to this day in my opinion you haven’t been taught English unless you were taught by Mrs. Omollo my high school English teacher.

I am currently pursuing a bachelor degree in law at the University of Nairobi School of Law. I have just completed my fourth year exams.  Growing up I was very passionate about the law( I was and still am a very good public speaker) I especially loved arguing out my points more so when I knew I was right and the other person was wrong.  It is from my primary school experience that can say that my passion for the law was cultivated. I was in Loreto Convent Msongari primary school.  I was in a class full of girls whom to this day I believe are some of the greatest minds in this country. Each day my classmates positively challenged me, they challenged me to improve my grades, they challenged me to read more, to accumulate more knowledge and to learn new “big” English words so that I would use them the next day in class, just to seem even if it was for one day, as the brightest student in class but that was quickly short lived because the next day someone else would come having learnt a new word. On the plus side law does not have that much math it was a win win situation.

I would say I love studying law because I believe without the law society as it is right now would be in a state of anarchy. I believe that the law brings about order in society and instills a need for responsibility. I also do believe that the law has the power to bring about significant change in the society. I would love to be part of this change and not only be a part of it but also play an active role in ensuring that laws that will have a positive impact on society are enacted. This fueled my need to explore inter-sexuality as my thesis topic.  Through the law the rights of minorities can be championed. For me inter-sex individuals in Kenya are a minority group whose fundamental human rights have been violated and continue to be violated.  Intersexuality is not a unique phenomenon, it is not a disability and it is not a disease that requires to be corrected. I believe that by conducting research into this area I will be able to bring to light the plight of intersex individuals in Kenya and also suggest legal reforms that are long overdue that will enable the legal recognition of intersex individuals in Kenya. The journey has not been easy but I have been able to complete my thesis and I hope to build on it n future. I am not only passionate on issues affecting minority groups but also human rights issues and issues affecting women in Africa more so sexual reproductive health issues.

My experience at YWLI has been an eye opening and educational experience which I was very fortunate and grateful to have had. I learnt a lot on issues surrounding sexual reproductive health that affect women in Kenya. Through YWLI I was able to conduct research into the area of abortion. For me abortion has been a very grey area, for me it has always been a conflict between morality and fundamental human rights. Form YWLI I was afforded the opportunity to conduct an offline survey and also to deduce several findings from the survey. Firstly  that abortion is an issue of fundamental human rights more than morality and secondly that the law as it is, is patriarchal in nature and as such does not adequately and effectively address the issues affecting women.  My time at YWLI was also a learning experience I learnt how to conduct and compile research.  I was also able to make valuable connections with persons who would assist me with my thesis. All in all my experience at YWLI was a very valuable experience that i feel very fortunate and proud to have had.

I am a proud feminist. It took me a while to get to that point of appreciating feminism. My experience at YWLI helped me appreciate feminism and to be proud to be one. As such I will leave you with a quote by one of my favorite authors Jane Austen, for me this quote encapsulates the struggle and the journey  of feminism , equality and equity .


“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.
www.iie.org/
www.iie.org/en/Programs/ACE-for-Womens-Leadership
www.ywli.org 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Domitilla: The making of a community leader

Domitilla Mukanganza is a community leader in Kagugu Sector, Gasabo District, City of Kigali. She is also the head of her women’s cooperative. Her story finds genesis in domestic violence on her path to becoming a community leader.

Domitilla could only bear one child, and for this had to suffer humiliation and physical violence at the hands of her husband who found her worthless in her “infertility”.
It matters little that the beatings began in 2006, over 20 years after she gave birth to her son in 1985.

The battery started after her husband had been away from home for three days, and after Domitilla wanted to know where he had been, not seeming to care whether the family had eaten while he had been away.

For four years the physical and emotional violence continued all this while being reminded that she could not bear him more children.

In 2009, matters got out of hand after the husband took a hoe and hit her on the head, leaving her with a deep cut that needed medical attention. But when Domitilla reported the matter to the Police with help of concerned neighbours, her husband was held in the cells for only a few hours and released without charge.

It was around this time she came to know about Rwanda Women’s Network, to whom she poured her problems and received sympathy, and especially the safe space where she received counseling and group support.

Domitilla recalls the initial assistance she received to store her bean harvest at RWN premises away from her husband to prevent his selling them to get drunk. And, to supplement her income, she received training in weaving mats, bedcovers and other artifacts through Hope Cooperative, a socio-economic support group at RWN that found market in places as far as the United States of America.

While being able to earn steady income was empowering, she says it is the training she received on women’s rights – that women have equal rights as men – that would pave the way to who she is today.

Before she received the training in women rights, of which she is now a community paralegal, she did not believe she could stand for herself or speak before people.
But she gained in confidence and became more assertive, so that her husband and community took notice and began to give her respect.
She also gained weight. From 40 kilogrammes, she is much healthier and now weighs 63 – the right weight for her size.

As she gained her weight and confidence, she noticed how people around her were paying more attention when she spoke. She began being called to solve domestic issues as her advice was sought to maintain harmony in her community.
This led to her being elected head of her cooperative group of 30 members that engages in various socio-economic activities.

She is now a community leader in Gicikiza, her Umudugudu (village), where she is overseeing the monthly community activities (Umuganda) that also provide a forum to discuss issues affecting the community. She is also in charge of efforts in her village against gender-based violence where women and children are involved.

Domitilla has since reconciled with her husband and is today a grandmother of four, with whom she lives with her son in Gicikiza.

 Contacts:            Rwanda Women Network
                                Email address: rwawnet@rwanda1.com
                                Website: www.rwandawomennetwork.org