The Kigeme Refugee Camp, the second largest nationally, is home to over 20,000 refugees, most of them Congolese who fled the political unrest in their country in 2012.
61% of the refugees above 18 years old are women, and many of them fled the war carrying their children, often without a companion.
As a result, researches show that working-age refugee women are less likely to be economically active in comparison with both local women and refugee men, a situation which may foster a higher vulnerability of women in the refugee camps, and particularly for female heads of households.
The newly-inaugurated Women Opportunity Center, funded by UN Women, aims to address this challenge, as explained by the UN Women Representative in Rwanda, Ms. Fatou Lo: “Today UN Women inaugurated a women’s opportunity center in Kigeme Refugee camp to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the 2017 gender needs assessment of refugee camps conducted together with the Government of Rwanda, the One UN family and all the humanitarian actors in Rwanda. The study found that women refugees needed further support for livelihoods, reduction of SGBV and participation in camp management”.
The Center is an integrated facility that provides women in the Kigeme Refugee Camp a safe space, training and working rooms, a showroom for their products and a nursing area in a bid to enhance their livelihoods at the Camp and beyond. As part of the One UN family, UN Women is also contributing to empower women refugees to rebuild their lives, through training them in basket weaving, and selling their products around the world in collaboration with Indego Africa, a US-based nonprofit social enterprise that supports women through economic empowerment and trainings, as well as linking them to markets.
“Seeing the Center was a joy for us, before we sometimes had to weave our baskets outside in the sun, which deteriorates them. The room we were renting before was quite far from our houses and it was a challenge for us to come back home and feed our children on time, but the Center is close to our homes which will make it much easier to take care of our homes while working. And the baby room is a great space to take care of our kids without interrupting our work.”
This is Nadine Umuhoza, 29 years old, she is the Secretary of the Igisubizo Cooperative and one of the 50 women refugees from the Cooperative who received vocational training since December 2018. After a few weeks fulfilling orders made by customers around the world, through Indego Africa, the Cooperative has already earned over 1,800,000 RWF in benefits and counting, as they are starting the last module of the training.
“When I started learning basket weaving, I didn’t even know how to hold the needle, but now I weave baskets that I am proud of, and since I am earning money and contributing to the expenses at home, my husband supports the work that I do here”.
Nadine Umuhoza isn’t the only one who attests of the gained skills, Yves Nshimiyimana, the trainer from Indego Africa explained that despite the many initial challenges, including the lack of interpersonal skills among the women refugees, these women have come a long way and are setting up for a brighter future.
“The key achievement of the Project is the financial independence it has given the women refugees. The training covered basket weaving, business, and cooperative management and how to approach financial institutions, as well as mindsets, change. When we were starting some women couldn’t read nor write, had little understanding skills and couldn’t speak in public. A few months down the line, these women have changed and acquired critical skills that they will use even after they leave the camp.”
Going further, the Women Opportunity Center will strengthen the economic empowerment activities that UN Women and partners are implementing in the camp, offer sustainable avenues for the cooperative to become economically secure, and offer its members resilience and enhanced livelihoods. The Women in Igisubizo Cooperative are also ready to train other women and girls in the Kigeme refugee camp, thus creating a multiplier effect within the women refugees in Kigeme.