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Volume 11, Number 4, February 9, 2017

Farmers champion gender equality in rural Rwanda
Andre (l) and Anastasie (r) with their three children.

...the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally
Rice farmer Andre Samvora loves to cook. "I used to eat only meat and rice," he explains while peeling potatoes. "Now we eat a balanced meal with the vegetables we grow ourselves."

Andre and his wife Anastasie grow carrots, radish, onion, spinach and eggplant in their kitchen garden, a three-tiered affair that resembles a wedding cake. This layout produces more than a flat garden the same size. It retains moisture longer and more efficiently, simply by watering just the top layer and letting gravity do the rest. They learned about it from training offered by their co-op, Cooproriz Abahuzabikorw
a. The impact has been profound for this couple and their four children. "Our children no longer have parasites or diarrhea," says Anastasie. " We save money this way and our sleep is better."

The couple took gender training at the co-op a few years ago and then made changes in who does what around the home. "Ou r n eighbours thought Anastasie was poisoning me because I cooked and did other woman activ ities," he explains.

w they see us differently. We are happy and doing better." Anastasie nods in agreement. "We spend more time toget her and plan and share decisions and chores. Our lo ve is shiny now."  

Gender equality like this is taking root in a big way in the fifteen farmer co-operatives that are part of CCA's Rwanda Co-operative Agricultural Growth Project. Each co-op has established a gender committee composed of men and women to bring greater gender balance to their co-op's governance, management, and within their members households.

"There is a definite excitement and energy around this," says CCA country manager Fresnel Devalo n. "Our project established the committees, but they have taken on a life of their own."

He says each co-op board has embraced the need to provide equal opportunity and value to both men and women within their institutions. They have backed this commitment up with formal policies that require co-op leaders to make it happen. 

Each co-op now requires at least 30% representation by  women on their boards and committees. Women, dependent for so long on their husbands for a share in revenue are now registered co-op members, receiving payments directly from the co-op. They are opening their own bank accounts, many for the first time, starting small businesses and building up savings.

Gender committees are asking their co-op members what training they need. As a result, training sessions on nutrition, HIV care and prevention, and conflict resolution are in full swing. To help fill the void of young rural women leaders, the project is selecting women from the gender committees for special mentoring by two women co-op presidents.

Male gender committee members have strong views on gender equality. They are actively engaging with men in their co-ops who are not supportive of gender equality. One such supporter (and keen soccer fan) uses a sports analogy to press his point home. He says 'picture your wife as the coach of your football team, doing most of the work to help the team succeed. Yet on the day of the big game she is not allowed in the stadium because she is a woman. It's the same at home, where she carries most of the burden but plays no role in making the financial decisions that effect the family.'

Municipal leaders have taken note of the gains co-ops are making in bringing gender equality to their regions. The Mayor of Muhanga recently commended the work of the gender committees. Mayor Beatrice Uwamariya says the training is increasing production and bringing women into the value chain in ways they have never experienced before. She adds there are now more children in school, better nutrition, productivity, health, peace and contentment.

District authorities regularly call the gender committee of one of the co-ops to help resolve family conflicts among non-co-op members in the district. They are also called upon to train people invited by district authorities using the same training modules.

The co-ops are in effect "schools of democracy" where farmers (men and women) learn to express their views, evaluate options, nominate and elect leaders, monitor performance, and engage in planning and evaluation activities through their finance, membership, business development, governance and board committee structure.

Rwanda is ranked among the top ten countries for its gender parity, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, and has the highest share of female parliamentarians in the world. Fresnel Devalon believes the presence of so many women leaders on the national scene has fostered action at the local level to equalize opportunities among men and women there. He is optimistic about what can be achieved through co-operatives.
Back outside Andre's home, his son Divin is pounding soya beans, something boys don't usually do. He's imitating his father who shares in household chores, giving his mother more time to rest and do her job promoting healthy lifestyles to other families. Over 600 families have now taken gender training and are sharing in household chores and decision making. Many of those families have installed kitchen gardens in their yards. 

"Our project ends in a few months, but the gender committees and their work will continue long after," says Fresnel. "That's a very positive legacy -  for women as well as for men, and for the future success of their co-operative enterprises."
THE CANADIAN CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION (CCA) is a not-for-profit co-operative incorporated under the Canada Co-operatives Act and which operates as a subsidiary of Canada's national association of co-operatives and credit unions, Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC).  CCA's mission is to establish and grow co-operatives, credit unions, and community-based organizations to reduce poverty, build sustainable livelihoods, and improve civil society in less developed countries. CCA proudly delivers programs for the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF), a nationally registered charity which helps communities fight poverty and create more secure lives through community-owned co-ops. 
THE CO-OPERATIVE DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION OF CANADA (CDF) is a registered charitable organization that works to alleviate poverty by building and strengthening financial and non-financial co-ops in Canada and around the world. CDF works with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and other organizations to implement development projects on its behalf.   

 Charitable Number: 11887 5517 RR0001 


CCA is a not-for-profit
 co-operative with a mission to establish and grow
co-operatives internationally that build a better world.


To achieve this mission, CCA works closely with Canadian co-operatives and credit unions to channel their knowledge and experience to partner organizations and 
co-operatives in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Eastern Europe and Caribbean.