Agaziro – Rwanda’s national development fund
by Katie Carlson (GEI Program Manager, Rwanda)
Last week in Kayonza District, a celebration was held for the International Day of the Girl. In a country that has set a world record for the only female majority in parliament, currently at 64%, a celebration of this kind could never be overlooked. As part of this event, Plan Rwanda, an international NGO, announced that since last year, over 700 girls across the country have been enrolled in technical schools, as part of the nation’s focus on empowering young women to acquire valuable job skills and no longer be excluded from traditionally male-dominated employment sectors.
“As we celebrate the Day, we must remember that the TVET (technical and vocational training) can transform gender relations. Pushing the girls into vocational education is indeed symbolic of a society in positive transition”, said Katherine Nichol, a gender specialist with Plan Rwanda.
And indeed it is. If ever there was a society in positive transition, it is the Rwanda of today. A world leader in gender equality, female political representation and internationally lauded progress in education and healthcare, Rwandans are really getting it right. Stories of the lives that have been forever changed are truly moving, and all because of this renewed focus on the value and importance of women and girls, championed by the President himself at the national level all the way down to the Ni Nyampinga girls empowerment clubs at the village level, initiated by Girl Hub Rwanda.
One of the graduates of TVET, a young woman by the name of Beatrice Bamurigire, spoke openly at the event, describing how she had succeeded despite the odds, noting that her community never wanted her to join a construction course.
“I have got a sad experience behind my success as a plumber. I was given all sorts of insulting names; my own relatives discouraged me from studying construction. They said it was against our culture for a girl to climb a house”, she said.
Beatrice is now the only female plumber in Kiramuruzi Sector. She told the crowd that despite the negative attitudes of many when she first began her schooling, she is now widely envied.
“After completion of my studies at Amizero technical school in Kayonza, I was employed by the sector. In addition to the full time job, I have a number of other part-time jobs that supplement my income. People who were laughing at me yesterday, today they envy me”, she said.
Agaciro is a Kinyarwanda word meaning dignity, self-reliance, independence, self-respect. It is the backbone of this country, and the name of the national development fund, a fund voluntarily contributed to by all Rwandans who can afford it, even in the smallest way. It is also the driving force behind the goal of women’s empowerment.
Empowering girls means empowering women, and a vast body of empirical research reveals that an empowered woman has an amazingly positive ripple effect; she improves the lives of not only her immediate family, but also of those in her community and her country. Imagine what Rwanda could be if every girl across the nation were given the tools to be truly empowered.
Through my own journey across Africa and within Rwanda, I have seen first hand how becoming empowered in a meaningful way begins with that first crucial step of believing in yourself. Adolescent girls in this country have often told me how participating in various programs and initiatives around the country has brought them to believe in themselves, and to realize their true potential for the first time in their lives. In this spirit, we at GEI are currently developing a gender and leadership program that focuses on building the skills and self-confidence of young women to become leaders in today’s world, to inspire others and to have a real impact on the future of their beautiful country. In all of our programming, we strive to complement the government’s objectives for development, and this is one way in which we believe we can have a lasting impact on Rwanda’s development goals. By pairing up today’s strong and admirable Rwandan female leaders with young aspiring women seeking to empower themselves and others, and collaborating with international experts in gender and leadership, we believe we can help to make the Rwanda of tomorrow a place of equality, prosperity, and dignity for all.
After all, why not make Beatrice’s story a reality for all Rwandan girls? The possibility is before us, and we need only embrace it.