For many years, Chantal’s life was very difficult. Employed as a houseworker, Chantal was the sole earner in her family, whilst also being expected to cook, clean and look after three children. This marital dynamic is quite common in rural Rwanda. Chantal’s husband offered no support at home whilst retaining complete financial control – often spending Chantal’s wages without consulting her. To add to these pressures, her husband’s family, who did not approve of their marriage, would openly insult her in the village.
Now, she is a leader with an inspiring message to share. Back then, Chantal was in a lot of pain and unable to see a way out:
“My husband’s family didn’t love me. They would call me bad names, whatever they wanted. Even my neighbours hated me because of them. Because of the way I was treated, I felt helpless.”
But then Shooting Touch arrived in Chantal’s village. It uses the power of sport to help whole communities tackle the effects of poverty, health and gender inequality. A basketball court was set up and Chantal, excited to play, signed up immediately – continuing even as some people harassed her for it.
“I have always loved basketball. When I heard there was a court in the village I was thrilled. People laughed at me but nothing discouraged me.”
“WHEN I CAME TO THE COURT TO PLAY, I FELT RELAXED. I TOLD MYSELF THAT I WAS A WOMAN OF COURAGE. OTHERS TOLD ME I HAD STRONG ABILITIES AND I FELT LOVED.”
“The first time I scored I felt very happy, I shouted; I felt like a miracle happened. I immediately became convinced that the future would be good.”
Women playing sport doesn’t align well with traditional ideas about gender in Rwanda, but Chantal continued to attend every day, despite her husband’s protestations at home. After building her confidence on the court, she soon also enrolled on Shooting Touch’s gender equality programme, funded by Comic Relief.
Over the course of the programme, Chantal learnt about her rights as a woman, and about how gender norms were negatively impacting the community:
“I’ve learnt that a woman is capable and strong; that she can lead so many people. I learnt to be really brave and determined to achieve my ambitions. A woman is strong and there is nothing she cannot do. I saw that everything is possible.”
Finding her voice, Chantal decided to speak up for herself and challenged her husband’s behaviour. “I went home and I asked my husband ‘Why don’t you help? I’m tired. I do everything. If you don’t help me, I will go.’ He listened.” Although resistant at first, Chantal’s husband began to appreciate what she was saying. And one day she came home from work to find a clean home and a cooked dinner. Long-term, their partnership has now improved significantly, and the pair have expanded their farming business, benefiting the entire family. Chantal’s husband has also changed his attitude towards her spending time on the basketball court, and encourages her to attend sessions.
“Before when I used to go to basketball events, he would be so mad at me. Today he is happy for me – and he is changed. I am so happy.”
“BUILDING MY SELF-CONFIDENCE MADE PEOPLE REALISE THAT I AM A CAPABLE WOMAN”
Since we first met her in 2019, Chantal has gone from strength to strength and was recently elected to be a Community Health Worker for the village. Her role includes distributing mosquito nets, educating others about health and working with children under five. She also played a huge role during the Covid-19 pandemic, informing her community about the virus and administering the vaccine.
“I was elected to be a community health worker. They saw that I have potential.” Chantal is now more motivated than ever and describes her family as happy and thriving. “My plan is to work hard for my family and for my children to study well and make a living, and for me to move forward. I want to keep moving forward every day.”
“The message I would give to other women is that they should be bold.”