ADEPE’s role in positioning women at the center of sustainable nutrition
ADEPE is performing great strides in contributing to sustainable nutrition, by empowering communities- especially vulnerable women and girls- to be self-reliant and therefore ensure both food quality and quantity. ADEPE programs’ beneficiaries affirm that they have not only handled nutrition issues but also achieved success in other areas, owing to ADEPE’s interventions. This responds to the 17th November2022 Gender Dialogue Series, organized by UN Women/Rwanda, on the topic “Positioning women’s leadership at the center of sustainable nutrition in Rwanda.”
Jennet Kem has been UN Women/Rwanda’s Representative since 1st April 2022. It’s she that initiated the concept of positioning women at the center of efforts to end malnutrition and highlighting their contributions to critical agriculture value chains. In her opening remarks for the dialogue, she emphasized upon urgency to address stunting and malnutrition in Rwanda. She pointed out that it is possible to eliminate the narrative of stunting, through women’s leadership at the center of sustainable nutrition. She recommended a holistic integrated approach to nutrition, and suggested that young people- chiefly young women- should be empowered to create a sustainable solution to the problem. “Families, particularly men, should join [the struggle to attain nutrition],” she said. Here, Kem underscored the necessity of men’s involvement in addressing nutrition issues. She particularly requested men to develop the culture of earmarking budgets for their households’ nutrition. This point was underlined by Nadine Umutoni Gatsinzi, the Director General of National Child Development Agency. She pointed out that one of key reasons for child stunting is that there are men who don’t care about household nutrition.
Professor Jeannette Bayisenge- the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion also attended the dialogue as the guest of honor. She showed that the dialogue aligns with the Government’s target. She specified that the Government of Rwanda has resolved to reduce stunting to 19% by 2024, and that this is geared to ensuring a ‘Resilient Family.’ One of the ways to achieve it is to improve nutrition.
According to UN Women/Rwanda’s concept note of the event, Rwanda has accomplished impressive growth in agriculture production over the past 10 years, yet food security and nutrition remain a critical challenge. “Rwanda just like other developing countries face chronic food and nutritional insecurity, and this has led to a high rate of malnutrition among children. According to DHS 2019-2022, 33% of children under age 5 are stunted while 9% are severely stunted. 1% are wasted (too thin for their height), and less than 1% are severely wasted,” reads the concept note.
“Eight percent of children are underweight (too thin for their age), with 1% being severely underweight. 6% of children are overweight. The prevalence of stunting generally increases from 16% among children less than age 6 months to a peak of 40% among children aged 24-35 months. This represents the impact of undernutrition in the first 1,000 days of life.”
Kem and World Food Program’s Representative, Edith Heines, have asked for the empowerment of vulnerable families. Ken specified that investment is needed, to empower the families while Heines said that access to finance, especially for women, is needed. Heines also suggested collaboration and partnerships among various institutions, in efforts to tackle the issue. Umutoni also requested for more investment in early child development [ECD], sanitation and hygiene, food security and community awareness on nutrition issues.
ADEPE role in specific terms
Through its programs, as said in the introduction, ADEPE is contributing greatly to the nutrition sector. So, we are going to briefly address some of the programs.
- ECD Program supported by UNICEF
ADEPE cross-border, market, and workplace-based ECD Centers have become a model. They have amazed various national and international institutions. They come to ADEPE, to learn ECD functioning and best practices. For example, the Netherlands Ambassador to Rwanda- Matthijs Wolters, 9 Dutch Parliamentarians, and UNICEF/Rwanda Deputy-Representative-Nathali Hamoudi visited the Gisenyi Border ECD Center on 15th July2022. In fact, all people visiting ADEPE ECD centers recommend that this program should be supported and even extended to other parts of the country which don’t have such an ECD model. The Rubavu District Mayor-Ildephonse Kambogo, who graced the event highlighted Rubavu district’s admiration for ADEPE ECD centers in the district. He said “We thank UNICEF and ADEPE support, even if we still need more [ECD Centers]”, as we believe that these ECD centers provide the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, creating responsible citizenships, lifelong health, strong communities and successful parenting of the next generation.”
The centers established in different districts are 13 and serve 1200 children. The centers intervene to protect the rights of children, and facilitate the work of their mothers. Mothers leaving their children there go to conduct their business comfortably; which is corroborated by UNICEF/Rwanda. “Self-employed and low-income parents struggle to provide appropriate child care for their children and often cannot afford a caregiver at home. When parents bring their children to the markets where they work, they are unable to provide their children the attention, safety and care they need,” UNICEF/Rwanda [ https://www.unicef.org/rwanda/press-releases/unicef-government-rwanda-and-partners-inaugurate-first-early-childhood-development].
Parents are delighted with the centers. “Our children have the second better home that is providing integrated services while we are in our business,” one of the parents-Vestine Uzamukunda- told the visitors and the Rubavu District Officials. The same Rubavu centers were additionally visited by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, 15 Districts’ Vice-Mayors of Social Affairs and the Western Province in August 2022. The centers were also visited by over 20 journalists from major Rwandan media houses with Rwanda Biomedical Center in October 2022.
- Adolescent Girls Empowerment Initiatives [AGEI] and Women Empowerment Program
AGEI- With funding from Firelight Foundation, ADEPE has supported teen mothers and adolescent girls to (1) pursue their formal studies, informal education [technical and vocational education and training], and (2) do income-generating activities. First, ADEPE has assigned each of the 500 beneficiaries to bringing another one girl into the AGEI Program. This signifies that there are already 1000 adolescent girls and teen mothers who are benefitting from the program. They have transformed their lives and communities. There are those who have already graduated from university and occupy jobs. The others have turned their income-generating activities into successful businesses in crop and livestock farming, among others. Changes are even noticeable in their communities. These 1000 AGEI beneficiaries regularly meet to conduct certain activities like discussing issues mattering to women and girls in their communities. This is also changing some other girls in the communities who are imitating them as their role models.
Empowering girls and teen mothers, as it has even been highlighted by Kem where she suggested the empowerment of young women to create solutions, matches solving a nutrition problem. It can be substantiated by the following quote from the Twiceceka Project end report available online as ‘Twiceceka [Let’s Speak Out Against GBV]-USAID Report.pdf’. “Before meeting with ADEPE I was living a hopeless life because I became pregnant when I was in high school, and it was difficult for my family to accept the situation. Before I got this support, I had almost nothing and I was hopeless for my future as well as that of my child because there were many issues that needed money, which my parents didn’t have,” – testimony of a teenage mother.
“I completed the training successfully and got skills on how to generate income. We were trained and we started saving, which gave me an opportunity to get a loan of 24, 000 Rwandan francs, which I used to buy a goat, pig and three piglets. After receiving a tailoring machine through TWICECEKA project, I generated my own income. I am now able to meet my basic needs and that of my child. Currently I have saved 42,000 Rwandan Francs in my SACCO account. From all this support, my life has changed completely, and I am proud of who I am today. Having self-confidence and esteem has helped me to achieve more in life and I hope for bright future.” Twiceceka is s a project won by Women for Women International, and funded by the United States Agency for International Development. It was executed from March 2018 to May 2021 in 8 districts including Musanze which was ADEPE’s working geographical scope in the project.
- Women Empowerment– with funding from different agencies involving UN Women, IFAD, Rwanda Governance Board, and SNV, among others; ADEPE has turned this sector of women empowerment into one of its areas of expertise. The empowerment includes gender-based violence prevention and response, capacity-building and financial support for women to be self-reliant. ADEPE also ensures that its interventions aren’t confined to the economic aspect. Its interventions also deal with the field of harmony in the beneficiaries’ families through conflict transformation skills and techniques.
For instance, ADEPE has eradicated cultural barriers which used to prevent women from entering the beekeeping sector. ADEPE has trained 5,207 women beekeepers in 5 districts on entrepreneurship, and assisted them in grouping themselves into 6 unions that are now generating more than 150,000$ per year. 40% of the apiarists are women. ADEPE has assisted in the formation of more than 100 cooperatives and 224 Voluntary Saving and Loan Associations in 13 districts. Unama Ukore, Icyerekezo cy’Ubukire, and COVEFruits are some of the cooperatives. These cooperatives have been extremely successful. ADEPE has recently taken its current UN Women-funded project’s beneficiaries to these cooperatives from Musanze to Rubavu, to learn from these successful women entrepreneurs.
Unama’s President, Justine Umugwaneza, told the women “We initiated the cooperative with 1 million Rwandan francs (RWF [about 1000USD]) we received from the district of Rubavu in 2012. But we didn’t know how to utilize this money, since they’d just taken us from the street where were hawkers. Then immediately, ADEPE intervened to provide us with training, and it’s this training which has enabled us to reach where we are now. Of course, ADEPE has funded us too but the training has played the primary role; ADEPE has furnished us with financial literacy and profitable investment skills, among others. If we had not been given the training, we couldn’t have changed because as soon as the district passed us the cash, we thought we were going to divide it among ourselves and then continue working as we usually worked.” “But ADEPE taught and advised us to constitute saving and credit groups, bearing in our mind that we had to found a cooperative, since a cooperative is created out of the groups. We are 117 members, except only 4 women, all the others already own their residential houses thanks to the cooperative. This place where we work belongs to us, and we cannot sell it for less than 120 000 000Rwandan Francs [nearly 120 000USD]; it’s we who have bought it. Since next January we are starting to raise a 5-storey building in this plot; we have already obtained the building permit, and possess cash to have the building constructed. Completed, the house will be worth not less 600 000 000 RWF [about 600 000USD].”
It’s unquestionable that these women have already attained the level of perfectly satisfying nutrition. It is even corroborated by success stories of the current ADEPE-UN Women project in Musanze “Strengthen Women and Girls’ Economic Empowerment, while Preventing all Forms of Gender-Based Violence.” Each of the project’s 110 women beneficiaries has a success story to tell.
For example, during the advocacy meeting on speaking out against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence on 20th October 2022, Seraphine Mukamuganga testified “I used to be a street vendor, and most people being here know me. We are saving cash because of training and incremental capital it has given us; however, before it was not the case. I commend ADEPE before you, it immediately honors its promises, it is not like other organizations which promise you something and you wait in vain. ADEPE told us that it would enable us to conduct an educational visit, but we thought it was untrue. However, it has come true. Our children are getting enough food, and even porridge, the life has been transformed.”
Yvonne Ihogoza, Icyerecyezo President told the Musanze women “Ah, we cannot talk exhaustively now about the importance of ADEPE for us; if we decide to do so, you cannot leave here. ADEPE has helped us extremely. Some of us were street vendors and unemployed; for instance, I didn’t have occupation, I remained at home. But ADEPE has come and exhorted us to partner with one another, and also funded us. Our group has grown into a cooperative of 23 members; we have already attained great progress. We get food and all other necessities for our families. For instance, I have been able to pay school fees for my 3 children who have already graduated from university. Per year, I paid the school fees of 450 000RWF for each child for four years, all of them pursued their secondary education courses where I paid 85 000 for each per trimester from the 1st form to the 6th form. It’s only remaining one child who is still studying at secondary school. I have bought a plot on which I’m having a house constructed, and it’s 100 000RWF from ADEPE in 2016 that I have exploited.”
4.Food Security, Nutrition and Climate Resilience
This program is currently financed by Norwegian People’s Aid [NPA] in Gicumbi and Nyabihu districts and IFAD in Nyaruguru district. The NPA-funded project is titled the Public Policy Information, Monitoring and Advocacy [PPIMA]. The IFAD-financed project is under the Joint Program “Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women’s Empowerment”.
Thus, ADEPE is contributing to improving income, food security and nutrition of vulnerable households in a gender-equitable way. This enables the households to conduct joint decision-making in planning and management of decisions at the household level. It also incorporates climate change mitigation and adaptation activities to sustainably increase agriculture production and resilience.
Illustration: Case of IFAD Project
With the project, ADEPE is tackling real-world issues, as it is responding to right problems that people are facing. Men involved in the project now appreciate unpaid care works- conducted by women- including household activities like cooking, looking after children, and cleaning, among others. However, before, it wasn’t the case. With ADEPE’s intervention, both men and women in the program have concluded “Downplaying the unpaid care works is injustice perpetrated against women.” The men have vowed “We are going to correct ourselves, and thus appreciate the women’s unpaid care works and even assist them in executing the works.”
The project has empowered women to express their ideas and suggestions during the decision-taking process in households; which affects nutrition, among others. It has also inspired men to notice that women’s involvement in decision-making benefits not only women but also a household in general. The project is generating economic empowerment where women are playing a crucial role. The last field visit by ADEPE has shown great results.
a) All men in cooperatives involved in the program have changed so considerably that they are encouraging their fellow men to also change. The men are now helping their wives to do the household works, and in their testimonies the wives themselves affirm the change. All men and women  being the beneficiaries of the program are planning all their household affairs with their spouses. All the program beneficiaries  are farming small livestock [chickens and pigs].
b) The project represents an answer to climate change and nutrition. All the program beneficiaries are (1) catching rain water, (2) implementing erosion-fighting measures which include tree-planting and agroforestry. With regard to compost usage, we had set ourselves the target of 88.3% among the beneficiaries, and it has been achieved.
c) Before the project, nutrition mentality among the beneficiaries was too low. Especially, men used to think no man should eat fruits and they didn’t use to feel children would be nourished with nutritious food like eggs. They were convinced that eggs are to be all sold for cash. But the mind-set has improved so greatly that all the program beneficiaries now have kitchen gardens, and fruit trees. Though ADEPE has not conducted research, it believes that the project is conducing to the reduction of child stunting in Nyaruguru. All the 320 program beneficiaries have been assigned to promoting the project accomplishments to other community members. Every beneficiary has at least 10 community members they’ve to accompany.
It is undisputable that ADEPE is fulfilling a big role in positioning women’s leadership at the center of sustainable nutrition in Rwanda. The organization is convinced that it has already built core competencies and thus possesses capabilities necessary to continue contributing to addressing the problem. ADEPE is ready to form partnership with partners determined to deal successfully with this issue. In fact, partnership constitutes the vital element which will enable the organization to continue executing its commitment. ADEPE hopes to feature among the key players to definitely combat the problem.
Meanwhile, from the bottom of the heart, ADEPE highly thanks all its partners and stakeholders, for their considerable intervention for the success being registered by its different programs.