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