Blog | March 07, 2023
Celebrating International Women’s Day with Eugenie Ingabire, Expert in Gender and Youth Inclusion
On International Women's Day 2023, gender and youth inclusion expert Eugenie Ingabire shares insights into what it takes to make strides in women's equity in Rwanda and around the globe.

Banner photo: Eugenie Ingabire, Expert in Gender and Youth Inclusion

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global call to action for women’s rights and a celebration of all they have accomplished. This year’s theme is #EmbraceEquity — a reminder of our collective responsibility to promote inclusion, diversity, and social justice for all people who identify as women.

Today, we’re speaking with Eugenie Ingabire, a gender and youth inclusion expert with Land O’Lakes Venture37 for the USAID Cooperative Development Activity 4 (CD4). Eugenie shares how CD4 is shifting gender norms in Rwandan cooperatives, and how her personal experience with gender norms in Rwanda — from widowhood to her friends’ and family’s experiences in the Rwandan genocide — has shaped her career path in gender inclusion.

Tell us about your work with the USAID Cooperative Development Activity 4.

USAID CD4 supports farmer’s cooperatives in Lebanon, Malawi, and Rwanda to enhance the livelihoods of their members and to build more inclusive and resilient communities. As Gender and Youth Inclusion Specialist with CD4 in Rwanda, my role relates to embedding gender equality, women’s empowerment, and youth inclusion within all our programmatic work. I specifically focus on the activity’s Gender Action Research, a learning and research project empowering women to move from traditional gender roles— such as washing clothes, caring for children, cooking, etc. — into income-earning roles like business owners or paid employees.

My everyday work involves shifting the mindsets of men, women, and communities towards gender norms. For example, our team improves women’s confidence, leadership, decision-making, and economic resilience to overcome barriers related to social norms, power dynamics, gender-based violence, and “time poverty” — a term which refers to the disadvantages that women face from inequitable distribution of gender roles due to the unpaid domestic work that they are often expected or required to do.

One recent project that I’ve been working on through CD4 is a gender analysis report in Rwanda, which revealed that:
  • Men and women do not benefit equally from participating in cooperatives
  • Women’s domestic workloads is the greatest barrier to their participation in cooperatives, whether as members or leaders
  • Husbands and wives have harmful unequal power dynamics

The findings from this research are still under final review, but I am excited for this work to be published in June 2023. Findings will inform us about the current issues around women empowerment and where and how to channel our program interventions. 

Women participate in a gender training hosted by the CD4 program.

What drew you to work in women’s empowerment and gender?

Born to a gender-sensitive father, I earned my confidence and was shaped by his inclusive values. I always felt valued, and I was always encouraged to believe that I have the same abilities as my brothers.
Rwanda’s genocide also played a big role in shaping my career: Having family, relatives, and friends raped on a massive scale during the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 fostered a sense of injustice in my heart, because of the humiliation, stigma, and discrimination that women who were raped faced in Rwanda during the genocide. I have also been a widow for 18 years now, and I struggle with some social norms around widows and single mothers including stigma, discrimination, and disrespectful acts that we sometimes face — such as sexual harassment, just to mention one example. Working in gender inclusion and women’s empowerment is a way to raise my voice and eradicate injustice and violence against women and girls, showing the world that women are capable!

Working in gender inclusion requires breaking some cultural and social norms.  You need to be prepared for all kinds of consequences, including lack of support, rejection, exclusion, stigma, insults, and many stereotypes... It’s a long and bitter journey! So, you need to stay strong, have the confidence to speak out, keep informing women about their rights, and be optimistic.  

In line with the optimistic outlook that I need to have for this career path, here are some accomplishments that I’ve already seen along my journey: women shifting their mindsets and feeling more empowered; women and couples coming to me for advice on gender issues; men raising concerns about the time poverty that women face and changing their behaviors to help out with domestic work; and women receiving medical and psychosocial services that they didn’t previously have access to because their husbands didn’t allow it.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

For me, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a result of women’s tireless efforts to have a dedicated day to pause and reflect. It’s a time to have a look back and recognize what has been achieved by women, and a time to look ahead to see what is still needed for a better and safer environment for women and girls.
It’s an awareness and advocacy day, reminding all leaders and decision makers around the world of their responsibilities to enable gender equity. At the project level, we’re using the day as an opportunity to share information with women about local events related to IWD, connecting them to their respective district communities to join in celebration. At the workplace, we are hosting an internal session for Land O’Lakes employees to learn more about our work at Venture37 and how it relates to International Women’s Day, as well as an internal event at our Rwanda project office in Kigali.

What advice do you have for others who work in gender inclusion and international development?  

Consider power dynamics, and plan with them in mind. When designing programs and projects, always consider unequal power relations and inequalities experienced by women, including age, education, geographic location, (dis)ability, marital status, and other demographics. Use these considerations to identify all related specific needs – this is the first step towards equitable change.

Men must be active participants in the journey to inclusion. Project targeting women should also target men as active allies: both men and women should be active participants in the journey to gender equity.

Tackle root causes. Finally, focus on the root causes of gender inequalities instead of simply dealing with the consequences. Some of these root causes include social norms and power dynamics that lead to gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, and high rates of unpaid care work, just to name a few. Prevention is better than cure!

Learn more about Venture37’s approach to gender equality and social inclusion.
By Eugenie Ingabire 03/07/2023 #Blog