Women & East Africa
“Next time you’re in Africa driving in a rural area, look out the window and see who’s working in the fields. They are almost all women. If you listen only to the men, because they are the ones with the social permission to go to the meetings, then you are not going to know what the women really need and they’re the ones doing most of the work.”Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
I saw this quote the book Moment of Lift – something immediately resonated with me. So I put the book down and scrolled through all the pictures we took from the car during our drive in Africa. Here they are:
I knew there was truth to it but I did not expect all my pictures to reflect this so consistently. It was not to say that the men were not working – they were working as our safari guides, porters and drivers. They had access to bicycles, driving licenses, vehicles – all the women we saw were commuting by foot.
& I recall the joy from the girls at the Rwanda’s Nyamirambo Women’s Centre where we took a cooking class and bought lots of souvenirs from the gift store after. Perhaps Lance’s involvement was unusual to them but I guess we are tourists to them.
When we bought all our souvenirs from their store – traditional rwandan woven keychains, sweet dresses and pants for our little friends back home. Their ‘thank yous’ were different – they were truly grateful and excited. Perhaps someone purchasing their handmade items was a validation to their skill and perhaps a boost of confidence? It made me think about fair trade and giving dignity by purchasing (not because of a charity case but these were truly items that we liked and we actually went back a second time before leaving Rwanda to pick up more!)
I recall the hustle at Kimironko local market where I got myself some kitenge crazy pants tailored on the spot with oil fabric from DR Congo. There were so many seamstresses and this lady approached me saying she could do the job – she protectively told me to ignore the tout that was tailing us. Here, I realised the importance of the Women’s Centre sewing classes – with a basic set of skills, these women show up in the market, rent a sewing machine table and earn a living.
I came across a quote (I forgot where) that a mark of how far a society has come is to see how the women dress and carry themselves. And a measure of safety was whether one could see women and children walking on the streets. True enough, we saw women walking confidently along the roads (carrying the kitenge fabric beautifully), children cycling home in their school uniforms. We felt extremely safe and walked to restaurants wherever we could in Rwanda – this was a huge contrast from Nairobi where we had been advised never to walk.
I think of our East Africa trip very fondly and count our lucky stars that we managed to do this crazy trip in 2019. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that so many things I read and think about bring me back to this trip. It was wonderful, enriching and we are honestly am counting down the days till we return. Perhaps we should be conservative and measure this in double-digit months or perhaps years? Perhaps hopefully, somewhere in our lives, we get to visit again in a greater capacity than just a tourist.