A gender balance success story

Posted by Liz Foggitt, on 7 March 2019

IWD full image 2019

At Twin, we have six guiding principles and Gender Justice is one of them: it’s woven into everything we do. We believe women can live and thrive in an equal world. We must support women, empower them and change attitudes to make this a reality. Balance for better is the theme for International Women’s Day this year, so we reflect on how our work has facilitated an increasingly gender-balanced life for one family in rural Rwanda.

Teresa Uminana is a female coffee farmer in the Western Province of Rwanda, close to Lake Kivu. She has been a member of the Kopakama cooperative  for 14 years and the women’s group Ejo Heza since 2011. Teresa has successfully created balance, both personally and professionally, and her life is better for it.

Ejo Heza means ‘A Beautiful Tomorrow’ in Kinyarwanda, the national language. The group formed to support female coffee farmers in the Rutsiro district of Rwanda. The women produce and sell high quality coffee to companies such as Taylors of Harrogate, Square Mile and Sainsbury's via Finlays. These particular beans are sold with a premium which is reinvested into Ejo Heza.

Before Teresa joined Ejo Heza she had limited income. Her family didn’t produce and sell enough coffee to survive on, so Teresa walked through the steep hills surrounding her village to collect bananas to sell. Twin delivered Gender Action Learning System (GALS) workshops to Ejo Heza members. Teresa did the GALS workshop with her husband, Evode. She says the tools helped them become closer and she feels she understands Evode better as a result.

In the workshops, we use tools and diagrams to record the participants’ personal lives. We explore who makes household decisions and who can access which resources. We then map out their dreams and aspirations. The visual approach gives a useful view of where imbalances lie.

In our session, Teresa used the GALS tools to map out her vision for the future. It was the first time she allowed herself to dream and believe that things could be different. She set the goal of opening a shop in her local community and then worked out the steps she would need to take to bring her idea to life.

Ejo Heza has a revolving fund which provides its members the opportunity to access small loans to start income generating projects. This has been possible with funding from our partnership with Taylors of Harrogate. Teresa accessed a loan and used it to open a shop in her community in 2017.

IWD inside the shop

The shop is small but packed with useful items such as children’s shoes, fresh maize, pens and biscuits. It is a success – now Teresa’s neighbours don’t have to travel to buy everyday items. Teresa built a sustainable business and less than two years later she paid back her loan.

Teresa still grows coffee, but now she has a second source of income which makes life feel more secure and comfortable. She can afford the school fees and materials for her children. She also has health insurance for her whole family.

Since doing the GALS training together, Teresa and Evode are more united, more settled and happier. Teresa says that when she is on her farm, or at meetings at Kopakama, Evode looks after the shop. She smiles as she explains that now “they are business partners”. This family is gender balanced, and it is certainly for the better.