July 15, 2024

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Fostering women’s participation in community development: Spark’s impact on women’s participation and empowerment

Women and a girl chairing discussion during a goal-setting meeting in Gashoro Village, Rwerere Sector, Burera district

Women face inferior job and income opportunities across the globe compared to men. In Rwanda, disadvantages in education, skills development, and opportunity previously limited the ability of women to participate in the labor market and to access higher quality, more productive jobs. Yet, women represent over 51% of the population and play a crucial role in the development of society at all levels.

In 2021, Spark Microgrants, in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and with the support of the World Bank, launched the Advancing Citizen Engagement (ACE) project. The ACE project aims to improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty, through the Facilitated Collective Action Process (FCAP). The project strengthens participatory planning and citizen engagement in government processes, by training local Government officials on FCAP tools. It also supports villages to lead their development and increase citizen capacity, self-reliance, confidence, financial literacy, project management, and develop a framework for a national-scale roll-out of FCAP – the National Framework for Participatory Village Planning, by working with the central government policy-makers.

With the FCAP meeting, women’s attendance and participation in village meetings have increased. In the 249 communities benefiting from the ACE project, women attend meetings at 35%, and their participation in the meetings at 61%. Women participate in engaging discussions and ask questions and guide the conversation with men to make their voices heard and their perspectives and ideas understood.

Nyiramahoro Laurence, Ruhanga Village, Busengo Sector looks after her cow and pigs in the morning and attends weekly FCAP meetings in the afternoon.

Nyiramahano Laurence, an elderly woman (64) living in Ruhanga cell, Busengo Sector, Gakenke district, said she can’t miss FCAP meetings. She said that women and men complement each other and it is good that they share thoughts and ideas during the meetings.  

“During the FCAP meetings, everyone is allowed to share their thoughts regardless of their gender or age. In the early years, it was difficult for women to speak up in public as those who did were considered stubborn and disrespectful. But after electing Kagame, our President, women were empowered”.

Mukarukundo Valentine, SEDO of Ruhanga Cell, said that in Rwanda women play a direct role in public decision-making while ensuring better accountability to women.

“Women are allowed to work everywhere now. We have equal participation of women and girls in leadership and decision-making, thanks to our President. My mother is happy for me. When I was working as a SEDO in my neighborhood, my mom saw me doing mobilization in a community and she smiled as she was proud to have a child that has become a leader,” Valentine said.

Ntamfurayishyari-Appolinarie

Ntamfurayishyari Appolinarie, 44, his husband is a casual worker in Kigali said that during the FCAP meetings women are given space to speak. 

“Women ask questions about what they don’t understand. They are also encouraged to participate by sharing their ideas and thoughts and men are very supportive,” said Appolinarie.

Nyirandikubwimana Denyse of Nyabizi II in Kinyababa Sector said that Spark made her feel more comfortable speaking up during the meetings.

“Spark sessions talk about having confidence. I am now the one to decide my future. By giving ideas in the meeting, we learned that microgrants aren’t an asset in themselves – rather that we use them to make profits,” she stressed confidently.

She added that before the FCAP meeting, it was not easy to speak up more in the community. She recognized that Spark Microgrants allowed men and women to express their ideas at the same level. 

“Men and women have the same rights. I am proud of what Spark is doing because even after the first few days we have a high degree of transparency”.

On gender equality and empowering women, Gervais Niringiyimana from Nyabizi II Cell, Kinyababa Sector said that he is very happy seeing women sharing their thoughts in the FCAP meeting. 

“In the past, it was hard for women to speak up in meetings. Spark taught us to be self-confident. There is no difference between men and women,” he said adding that older men and women who felt excluded are also considered in the meeting.

“We had many old women who were isolated from society. They started attending weekly FCAP meetings. One example, a woman is 90 years old. She didn’t attend meetings because of a lack of confidence,” he added.

Kawera Violette, Murambi Sector, Rulindo district said that FCAP meetings are a space for women and men to share ideas.

Kawera Violette residing in Murambi Sector, Rulindo district said that before the FCAP meeting some women did not have the right to join others in groups. 

“After training, women felt more confident to join groups they are happy to save in the same group with men”. 

According to different speakers, FCAP meetings are considering gender mainstreaming throughout all steps of the process from the assessment to the implantation through goal settings.

Gender analysis provides an insight into patterns of participation, behavior, involvement, and activities of women and men, considering a diversity of socio-economic, political, and cultural structures. It, therefore, provides an answer to how gender issues should be addressed in the project.

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