From the streets to becoming an automotive technician: UN Women striving to boost the economic autonomy of vulnerable women in Muhanga district


Akimana Yvonne
Akimana Yvonne, one of the female students enrolled in Gahogo TVET school. Photo UN Women/Pearl Karungi

By now, we’ve all heard about the low numbers of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Some argue it’s a pipeline issue that if we can interest more young girls in STEM subjects, the issue will resolve itself over time. But evidence for that is thin.

Twenty-year-old Akimana, formerly a street vendor in Muhanga district, is one of two female students defying the gender bias by enrolling in Gahogo Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) school in automotive mechanics. “I’ve gotten remarks like you’re not going to be able to cut it,” Yvonne told us during a recent field visit to Muhanga district. Growing up in a vulnerable family, Akimana was selling fruits to survive. Her fascination and curiosity about cars led her to pursue automotive mechanics.

In the framework of off-farm job creation, UN Women Rwanda partnered with YWCA Rwanda to provide hands-on skills including hair dressing, manicure and pedicure, art and crafts, automotive mechanics, awareness raising on family planning and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) to vulnerable women, especially teenage mothers, and female sex workers, under the enhancing the livelihood for vulnerable young women project, through upgrading technical and vocational education and training jointly with SRHR skills and creation of saving groups in Muhanga and Kicukiro districts of Rwanda. The economic empowerment model seeks to reduce the vulnerabilities by providing opportunities to develop vocational skills and knowledge to 500 teenage mothers, female sex workers and other vulnerable women in Kicukiro and Muhanga districts, including supporting 150 young women engaged in small, informal businesses to transition to formal and stable businesses.

Some of the students in the art and craft class
Some of the students in the art and craft class at Gahogo TVET school. Photo credit: UN Women/Pearl Karungi

In a courtesy visit to the women beneficiaries in Muhanga district, Uwase Honorine shared her life changing story of how the support changed her life and that of her 2-year-old son for the better by making new life choices and believing in herself. “I used to think that if I don’t sleep with a man, my child will not get milk. Today, that has changed I’m no longer a single mom who eats because I had sex with someone. I now know that my life is in my hands, it doesn't have to depend on anyone else’s wishes,” Uwase Honorine added.

 “There is nothing good about it, you just lose self-esteem and dignity. The tailoring skills have empowered me to work for myself and I am now a community leader in charge of wellbeing in my village and I mobilize other sex workers to leave the activity. Thanks to UN Women’s support through YWCA,” said Mukagasana Devota, a former sex worker.

Furthermore, savings groups have been trained on sexual reproductive health and rights, life skills, business selection, planning and management, financial literacy, and financial inclusion, borrowing, income generating activities, as well as linkages to formal financial services and support to form cooperatives. The training has improved the livelihood status of 28 female sex workers, 30 teen mothers and 26 vulnerable women have access to skills development and market opportunities. The Ntukabumwe savings group, formerly street vendors, have now saved up to 900,000RWF (USD $900), and Bahoneza, comprised of sex workers, have saved 946,000RWF (USD $946) and Tinyuka urashoboye savings group for teen mothers have 483,000RWF ($483) loans among members.

Ntukabumwe savings group members
Ntukabumwe savings group members during their weekly meetings. Photo credit: UN Women/Pearl Karungi

The district officer Nyiratunga Ephigenie appreciated UN Women’s support and partners for working hard to reduce unemployment and the resulting economic distress among youth, which reduces teen pregnancies and other negative effects including rejection by their families. She called for continued support in awareness raising on SRH, family planning and economic activities.

A group photo with teen mothers
A group photo with teen mothers after the group meetings. Photo credit: UN Women Rwanda/Pearl Karungi

This work is supported by UN Women under the “Enhancing the Livelihood for Vulnerable Young Women” project to empower teen mothers, sex workers and vulnerable women. The project is funded by the Government of Switzerland through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented in Kicukiro and Muhanga districts of Rwanda.