Unique for its expansive and lush landscapes, the district of Nyaruguru stands as one of the leading regions in Rwanda contributing to a significant portion of the country`s GDP. Lush as they are, within these hills you will find women and men, sweat on brow, determinedly working from the chilly hours of the morning, to the sun filled afternoons to harvest and tend to one of the country`s largest natural exports. The highly acclaimed “Rwandan tea”.
However, these productive plantations are sustained at a great human development cost, particularly to women and children. This is the cost of an unequal burden to unpaid care work, coupled with the risk for deficient early childhood development. To bridge this gap and level the burden to unpaid care work that women face, UN Women partnered with the district of Nyaruguru under the “Safe Public Spaces” project to develop three Early Childhood Development Centers (ECDs) as a solution to empower women to freely pursue income generating activities with the peace of mind of knowing that their children are catered for in a safe, educational and nutrition providing environment.
Christine Mukamana, a mother of five, is one of the many women whose lives have been transformed following the establishment of these ECDs.
“Life before having access to the ECD`s was incredibly difficult. As a mother of five children working the entire day on the farm, it was almost impossible to look after them and be productive at the same time, especially with my youngest who needs to be breastfed and requires constant attention. With this level of distress, my work suffered, our income was low, and our household was a mess. I sometimes wondered whether it was better to not work, but just stay home to take care of my children.”
When I heard that a new ECD was being developed by the district, I became very hopeful and prayed that it would be a much better option to what we had at the time. Looking back, my prayers were answered.” says Christine.
The three ECDs established in Kibeho, Munini and Mata sectors employ a unique integrated approach aimed at strengthening children`s nutrition, protection, health and education. Nyaruguru district was one of Rwanda`s most vulnerable to stunting, at a rate of 44 per cent, but with the establishment of these ECDs and complementary awareness raising activities including ‘Men Engage’ initiatives, the severity is rapidly decreasing, now standing at 24 per cent with a target to reach 19 per cent by 2024.
“Having joined this ECD in Munini in April 2022, there has been a big difference in my life, and that of my family. Here, my children are safe, they can play and learn, get a balanced diet, but also have stimulating activities to lead their development. Since my son joined, he can now confidently feed himself and easily learn new things. As a mother, I am now excited to witness the development and growth of my child.” she adds.
These ECDs were developed under the overarching mission to address the unequal burden to unpaid care work that many women face in the district, to promote women`s economic empowerment, and ultimately gender equality.
“After dropping my child off, I determinedly go to work and undertake my farming activities with the peace of mind of knowing that he is safe. Since I am now able to fully focus, I have become a lot more productive and now make even more money to support my family. Our living conditions have also changed for the better, and there is a lot more harmony in our home.
My aim is to work with everyone to raise awareness on the importance and availability of these facilities, and I hope with greater investment, more of them can be built for other working mothers like myself.” concludes Christine.
The Early Childhood Development Centers were developed under the “Safe Public Spaces Project”, implemented jointly between UN Women and the district of Nyaruguru. With the aim to influence positive social transformation from the household to community level, the project focuses on creating safe spaces for women to pursue economic activities, addressing gender-based violence, raising awareness on the unequal burden of unpaid care work, and the critical role of men as actors for gender equality. With generous funding from Unilever and the Government of Korea, the project has so far reached approximately 18,850 direct beneficiaries during its three-year implementation period.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women – Africa.