Life is rolling along here in Rwanda! I’m starting to set down roots in beautiful Muhanga, a village somewhere in between rural and urban designation. Muhanga sits at an elevation of about 1,800m above sea level and I must say, it’s a bit chillier than I had expected. It’s generally fairly sunny, but September is the start of ‘rainy season,’ when it pours for about 1-3 hours each day. There is one sparsely stocked ‘supermarket’ in Muhanga and, as far as I can tell, no Western-style restaurants. I’m actually enjoying the lack of expats and Western amenities – in a city like Kigali it’s too easy to seek out the familiar, but living in Muhanga is forcing me to get out in the community, be resourceful, try new things, and make connections with locals.
I’ve started work, which at the moment is a whole lot of reading background documents on gender, HIV, and agriculture at both the local and national level. The gender-based reports are depressing to say the least. The (unfortunately all-too-) usual suspects are at play in Rwanda; violence against women (VAW) is rampant, most women have little to no access to resources, equal negotiations in household affairs is rare, girls are often undereducated compared to male counterparts, and though on the decline, cultural practices such a dowry and early marriage continue to negatively affect women.
Agriculture is the largest industry in Rwanda engaging 86% of Rwandan women and 62% of Rwandan men. The documents I have read show that women tend to engage more in labour production (irrigation, planting, weeding, etc.) but it is men who carry out the commercial aspects of production (bringing product to market). Despite the fact that activities like seeding, weeding, and harvesting take more time and labour than marketing, women often see little to no profit for their work. As though their days weren’t already chock full, women have the added burden of caring for the young and elderly, preparing food, and keeping household affairs in order … sound familiar, Canadian women?
Interestingly, Rwanda is in many ways leaps ahead of other developing countries in terms of women’s equality. As happened in the West after the World Wars, the genocide opened doors for women’s participation in the work force. With so many men lost to the genocide, women were needed to fill labour gaps and took on non-traditional roles in decision making, construction, farming, and financial management. The challenge now is to re-negotiate relationships in a country where women continue to contribute to the formal labour force but men have largely resumed positions of power and control over resources.
The good news is that with a proven record of skill and ability in managing what were traditionally ‘men’s’ domains, women have a solid platform on which to advocate for equality and challenge the social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequality. And, many women are doing just that! To update on an earlier post, as of the Rwandan elections that took place just under two weeks ago, women now hold 64% of seats in Rwandan parliament!! As more women move into positions of power, they’re advocating for and implementing policy to create gender equality throughout Rwandan society – hence the impetus for organizations like UGAMA to tackle social and labour inequalities. Good news indeed!
Another positive aspect of my readings has been delving into the agricultural work of UGAMA. Through osmosis and many a crop tour with my 78-year-old and still farming (!!!) Grandpa, I’ve acquired a good base knowledge of farm life in Canada. It’s been interesting to read the narratives and data on farming in Rwanda – everything from crop management to the most popular seed strains to crop diseases to production tools and techniques. I’m looking forward to trips to the field to see production in action! Though, I fear I’ve acquired unrealistic expectations of what a crop tour is … with Grandpa it always ends in a warm Labatt 50 and a joke or three! : )
I’ve also moved into my new home for the next 8 months. It’s a spacious one bedroom apartment in a compound that houses maybe 8 at full capacity. Currently I’m the only inhabitant but a Rwandan my age is expected to move in next week and hopefully more in the near future. I have a kitchen with a fridge, microwave, burner, and sink as well as a living room, bathroom, and bedroom. I’ll try to post a video tour of my apartment as well as some photos this weekend!
Something to watch out for in the near future:
At home, Mandi and I are always trying to research and implement new ways to ‘green up’ our lives. We’re huge believers that habits are acquired over time so every couple of weeks we’ll incorporate a new habit into our lives that is more environmentally friendly and consumption conscious. Not only is it a great way to reduce our environmental impact, but it’s proved to be a good way to save money as well. We thought it would be fun to continue this while I’m overseas, comparing notes on the differences of ‘going green’ in Canada vs Rwanda. We’ve put together a list of things to do – many of which we have been doing in Canada already – but that have interesting complications and differences depending where in the world you are. Some of the things on our list are shopping locally, conserving water, and cutting back on electricity consumption. I’ll make sure to start with sourcing local food as many of you have been asking about my diet here.
Stay tuned, and a huge murakoze (thanks) to everyone for reading, commenting, and asking questions! : )