With laws and political frameworks that are pro women empowerment already in place in Rwanda, the challenges that remain to be addressed include equipping the very beneficiaries; women and girls, with the right information and skills to benefit from the good political environment and thrive alongside their male counterparts.
But not just the lack of information; the challenges that face girls especially in rural settings span from social and economic pressures within their families and communities, hence need for comprehensive intervention programs to collectively address them.
To the effect, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Rwanda has been implementing a series of projects in partnerships with several bodies both in the academia and civil society, with a central aim of establishing models for bridging the information gaps.
Also, the models are aimed at contributing to lessening rural Rwanda’s social and economic pressures that when unattended force many girls out of school and into unplanned marriages or similar casual engagements.
For instance, many adolescent girls find themselves in crossroads when their bodies begin to experience physiological changes, which given the limited information at their disposal, become a burden, as they struggle to find meaning.
These girls who are largely from poor rural families often have no access to the sophisticated utilities of civilized communities like sanitary pads, and in efforts to camouflage their changing bodies; end up dropping out of schools in fear of being ridiculed.
Against the backdrop of limited access to facilitation like sanitary materials that may otherwise be considered a given to any modern day adolescent girl, YWCA in partnership with Georgetown University through its Institute for reproductive Health is implementing the “Grow up Smart” project which introduces what is categorised as Very Young Adolescents (VYA) to sessions on their changing physiology.
Through grow up smart, girls and boys aged 10 to 14 years are made aware of their emerging fertility and are equipped to make decisions that promote their health.
In the past, YWCA says the aim has been to improve sexual and reproductive health knowledge, and influence attitudes and behaviors among VYAs and their parents.
Through two-hour long weekly sessions, beneficiaries of the grow up smart project are trained on puberty, body changes, fertility and self-care behaviors through educational interactive sessions, take-home activities and the distribution of “CycleSmart” kits to adolescent girls.
The kits carry sanitary pads to ensure comfort during menstrual cycles to allow girls attend school undisturbed in addition to other reproductive health related tools like beads to help the young adults keep track of their body cycles.
Unlike similar other women empowerment programs, the YWCA project features boys and parents as well.
The benefits of this as indicated include ensuring that whole communities are engaged in the process, hence reducing social stereotypes that in the past were responsible for failures of such endeavors.
Parents are engaged through two weekly sessions focused on parent-child communication to equip them with information on how to best handle VYAs.
The engagement of parents was informed by the understanding that many lacked the knowledge or skills needed to support their children in the critical adolescent and early puberty stages, especially on issues surrounding reproductive health.
The program reaches 1,350 Very Young Adolescent girls and boys 55% of which are girls while the rest are adolescent boys.
Other programs by YWCA
Besides grow up smart, the women support oriented organization, YWCA, has rolled out several projects, aimed at ensuring support for Rwandan communities, which in turn provides suitable environment for girls and women to flourish.
Keeping Girls at School (KGAS)
Keeping girls at school (KGAS) is implemented by YWCA Rwanda in partnership with CARE International in Nyaruguru district.
YWCA works with 1,619 girls grouped into 61 clubs in ten schools including those under the government’s universal education programs of nine and twelve years of basic education.
The project set out to empower 1,590 girls in schools and support them complete lower secondary (first three levels) and transition to upper secondary.
The social, emotional and economic challenges largely responsible for drop outs among girls are addressed through three main approaches; Voluntary Savings and Loans (VSL), School Score Card and Mentorship.
The VSL methodology provides the girls in clubs with financial literacy and decision-making skills to promote child friendly entrepreneurship while the School Score Card (SSC) intervention is used to reflect on the quality of service provided to girls at schools and to monitor the school environment.
In the same manner, the Mentorship approach is used to meet the academic, emotional and social needs of adolescent schoolgirls through offering the much needed moral support at this stage of transition from girlhood to womanhood.
Power to Change project
Power to Change is implemented in partnership with World YWCA under the support of the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.
The project which is implemented in Muhanga and Ruhango districts targets and empowers girls who were victim to unwanted pregnancies and those at high risk of HIV infection.
YWCA Rwanda has offered a series of training for young women (age 12 to 30 years old) in areas such as women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health.
By targeting this age group, YWCA has taught and built leadership skills, reproductive health awareness, among other issues girls face to prepare them for the future.
In the power to change project, YWCA uses the “safe space” model which capitalizes on an accessible and safe location, leadership and participation, accurate and reliable information sharing, building trust, holistic approaches, intergenerational cooperation, dignity and respect, partnership and accountability to provide a safe space to promote the Power to Change program in a community.
Through this project, 30 mentors, 30 peer educators as well as 30 safe space leaders have been trained on a number of issues.
“Supporting girls’ future through education and financial literacy training” Project
In partnership with Plan International, YWCA implements the Supporting Girls Future through education and financial literacy training project.
The 3year project active in Bugesera and Nyaruguru districts, targets 150 girls and 150 boys in level 1, 2, and 3 of secondary school aged between 12 and 15 years from ten secondary schools.
Through the program, YWCA has extended financial literacy trainings, and spearheaded the creation of 5 leadership clubs through which general life skills such as decision making, goal setting, socializing, sexual reproductive health and rights, dream drawing as well as the GREAT (Gender Role, Equality, and Awareness for Transformation) game Kits among others are acquired.
30 Peer educators and 15 mentors have obtained skills on leadership and are in position to lead their clubs and be role models.
In addition, 140 teachers and 10 head teachers have been trained in skills on how to help students set up social enterprises.
Saving clubs and other financial frameworks have also been created, all to the effect of sparking the spirit of entrepreneurship among youngsters.
Social and financial education among children has proven to spark their sense of responsibility to become agents of change within their homes and communities, contributing to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.
With a realization that the challenges of girl children are more complex and include social and economic ailments that make families and communities incapable of offering the right facilities, YWCA placed emphasis on changing the narrative; contributing to addressing community ills, and in the process delivering the required girl child’s empowerment.