Last weekend, millions of people gathered around the world to march for equality, diversity, inclusion and respect for women’s rights as human rights. The goal of the women’s march, was to “build and empower a persistent global network that will organize future campaigns and actions in support of progressive values including women’s rights.” The march was not a US election-specific protest, but rather was meant to galvanize people to defend women’s rights around the world.
At Gardens for Health, empowering women is at the core of our work. Events like the Global Women’s March remind us exactly how important those efforts are. We’re reminded how much work there is to be done for women across the world and for all traditionally marginalized groups. Now, more than ever, there is a need to recognize the difference in opportunities afforded to men and women and push for equality.
Imbalances in opportunities for men and women is a problem in Rwanda and many other developing countries, but it is certainly not limited to the developing world. This is a pervasive problem that effects every society and each one of us. As a result, we all have a responsibility to address it head on and use the overflow of energy spurred by these incredible marches to affect real change.
Our model at GHI is specifically tailored to address the constraints that Rwandan women face, many of which are gendered. “The barriers we see are information and resources and the themes we use to address them are support and partnership,” says GHI Country Director, Anne Wanlund in a speech given at the Belgian Ambassador’s residence. Each of those themes are addressed more in depth below.
In Rwanda, both formal and informal channels of information are less available to women than to their male counterparts. Across the country, women are achieving lower levels of education. As a result, we’re conducting rigorous trainings for women and investing in their education heavily. For 14 weeks we train women in a broad range of topics that affect their health and the health of their families. We give them this information to make better choices for themselves and their children. In addition to nutrition-specific topics, we train the women in our program on a host topics that relate to the complex and multifaceted factors that might make it difficult for families to feed their children. “We train them on gender-based violence and family planning to protect their rights,” Anne notes. “We also train them on listening and communications to be able to better discuss challenges with their partners and neighbors.”
In many homes men often make the decisions about how to allocate resources. Because women are typically the primary caregivers for their children, if they do not have the freedom to make household decisions, their child’s health will be negatively impacted. A number of studies have demonstrated that when women have the authority and ability to make decisions in the household, a higher proportion of family income will go to food, nutrition supplements, and health care. By encouraging a healthy dialogue with their partners, women are empowered to make more decisions in their homes. Anne explains, “We also recognize that access to resources in itself is a serious barrier to women making good decisions about what to feed their families and how to care for them.” So as a result, “we complement the information we give them with the essential resources they need to get on a healthier path.” We provide them with livestock and two seasons of seeds for their home gardens, sur’eau to purify water (contaminated water is a big contributor to malnutrition), soap to promote good hygiene, and a small financial contribution at graduation to give families a boost and encourage good saving practices.
We know that our family’s lives are complicated and the issues women face are often burdened with stigma, affecting their entire family. Our Field Educators are work intimately with each of our partner communities and are “on call” for the women we work with when they need additional assistance. GHI staff also launched a fund that is matched by the organization to provide additional support to families who face challenges outside our organizational scope, like when disaster strikes a family. We also provide child-care support and early childhood development programs during our trainings to ensure that children have a stimulating environment to learn and grow as their mothers do the same, free from distractions.
The women we work with are partners and equal decision makers in our program. “They are treated with respect and dignity, their voices are heard throughout our program and after,” says Anne. She describes how they are the ones who designed and shaped GHI’s method of instruction. They told us what is important for them to know. They’re the ones who help us continue to improve on our model and training materials. And perhaps most importantly, they’re the ones making changes in their homes and communities. Anne adds, “it is our commitment to each other, and our recognition of our unique capabilities and challenges that make this partnership work.”
As we move forward from these Global Women’s Events with a new vigor and hope for the future, let us come together and channel that energy to direct action and continue to support the women and communities that are affecting change across the world. Donate now to support GHI and our work!