Malena is proud to partner with Umutima, a women’s cooperative in Kigali, Rwanda, that is part of the Niyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC). We have worked with Umutima to design an original Malena line of Rwandan products, all handmade in the incredible colors of traditional Rwandan kitenge fabrics. And our founder was honored to spend time with the team in Rwanda, a country very close to her heart.
NWC was founded in 2008 as a support group, and was launched by a group of women living in a large informal settlement in Kigali, and two researchers and activists from NGO in Slovenia called the Peace Institute. Together, they created a project to address problems faced today by many young Rwandan women, such as struggling with socio-political and individual consequences of gender based discrimination, violence and poverty, reproductive rights, child care, lack of access to knowledge, education, skills and funds to strive for their well being and human rights, as well as income generating activities.
NWC aimed to respond to these challenges with a direct grassroots activity, and the establishment of a capacity-building women’s group and center, where women themselves can create space for discussions, awareness training, and encouragement to continue their education and training.
Today, NWC offers free education for women in the Nyamirambo neighbourhood. Women can join the center for classes in English, literacy, computer, sewing and handicrafts. NWC also organises workshops on gender equality, women’s rights and gender-based violence. In 2014, they opened a community library, offering books in Kinyarwanda, French and English. In an effort to develop income-generating activities for the center, and also for the women of the community, NWC developed a community-based tourism project that offers guided cultural walks in Nyamirambo.
Umutima, their sewing cooperative, is a group of eighteen women, between 22 and 46 years old, with education levels ranging from zero education to finishing University. Some of them are employed as domestic workers, manual labour in small businesses, and hairdressers, while some of them are students or are unemployed. The NWC is a diverse and heterogeneous group bringing together socially de-privileged and marginalized, hard working women, mothers, and girls from different social, cultural and religious backgrounds.
NWC was established with the aim to support local, disadvantaged women to continue their education and training, and to gain better opportunities for employment. They aim to achieve their goals through educational and training activities such as organization of educational programs and trainings for members of the NWC – English language courses, literacy courses, ICT trainings, entrepreneurship and accountancy trainings, empowerment trainings, trainings in responsible community based tourism (RCBT) in poor urban areas, and enrollment into formal education or specific forms of lifelong education. Further initiatives through which they aim to achieve our goals will be organization of courses for external visitors of the NWC, educational programs for the public organized, and run by the NWC, acquisition of land and house property for the use of NWC purposes, documentary film production, and international seminars and conferences.
The initiative was supported from its beginning by the Peace Institute, and by the Rwandan Association of University Women, who jointly launched the project. Both the Peace Institute and RAUW provided support from its beginning in terms of training, skills development, and work on long term sustainability. In the first year, PI and RAUW worked closely with the NWC to help organize a local office in Nyamirambo and to equip them with skills and facilities needed to run a sustainable women’s center.
Fundamental to NWC’s mission is to provide its members with the opportunity to become more successful in their efforts to overcome the everyday hardships of life, gender-based violence and discrimination, to build their self-confidence, and to continue their education. The NWC aims to address social problems that Rwandan women and girls face in their everyday lives, such as social marginalization, gender inequality in education, illiteracy, lack of skills and access to information, economic dependency, gender-based violence, and education on HIV/AIDS.
To achieve this mission, NWC has three overall objectives: 1) To strengthen the institutional and organizational capacity of NWC; 2) To promote and empower women through capacity development and employment; 3) To promote women and community – based tourism. Their main goal is to achieve strategic empowerment to become self-sustainable in the long-term, and to influence its local community and in Rwandan society in general.
They aim to achieve this through: capacity-building of the NWC, through qualifying women so that they will be able to lead and manage the center, and enhance the NWC’s performance; stimulating economic empowerment and poverty reduction among NWC members and local population, through responsible community-based tourism (RCBT); increasing the visibility and influence of the NWC on local, national and global level, through awareness-raising and information dissemination activities; enhancing the local community’s awareness on gender-based violence, women’s and children’s rights and women’s participation in the community, and to increase the social integration of particular, disadvantaged groups of women, such as victims of gender-based violence, school drop-outs, illiterate women and girls, women affected by HIV/AIDS, Muslim women, and genocide orphans.