Location: Rwanda

Amplifying voices for gender equality


Gender inequality in the East Africa region is manifest at all levels: in the social spheres, at the domestic level, and in public institutions. Gender based violence is particularly problematic. While there has been increased representation of women in politics – Rwanda leads the world in women’s representation in parliament at 61.4%, progress has been uneven.

Until recently there was a lack of harmonized policies and legislation to deal with gender inequality across the region. But in March 2017, the EAC Gender Equality and Development Act (also called the Gender Bill) was passed by the East Africa Legislative Assembly. While the Act awaits to be assented to by the Heads of States and to take effect nationally, there is a clear need for a harmonised framework for action, to track success, and to make cross-national comparisons.


The Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) is monitoring the implementation of the Gender Bill at both the regional and national level to gauge progress toward gender equality.

EASSI is a civil society network working through National Focal Point member organisations in eight countries of the region: Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. Its Secretariat is based in Uganda.

The Commonwealth Foundation has supported EASSI’s advocacy on the Gender Bill by enabling interaction between EASSI and members of the East African Legislative Assembly. The project also includes the development of a gender barometer which will provide an annual report that assesses progress of government’s actions, such as formulating policies that remove gender based discrimination, guaranteeing women’s rights, and providing the necessary services for the realisation of these commitments. These actions require financial resources, institutional mechanisms and accountability frameworks that should be integrated in national plans and budgets.

Citizens views on government performance are a fundamental component of the barometer that integrates the use of a ‘Citizen Score Card’. The barometer offers evidence based information for holding governments accountable to their gender commitments.

Institutional strengthening of the East African Civil Society Forum

EACSOF is a platform for civil society organisations in East Africa.

EACSOF was established in 2006 to be the channel through which civil society can make representation to the regional governance institution, the East African Community (EAC). Its vision is to see an East Africa in which citizens are fully engaged and involved in all affairs affecting their lives. EACSOF’s mission is to provide a platform and catalyse a critical mass of organised civil society to engage in need-driven, people-centred East Africa integration and to cooperate effectively and proactively for equitable and sustainable development.

The Commonwealth Foundation is supporting the institutional strengthening of EACSOF and working with it to develop an East Africa regional agenda for action at the EAC.

The Forum is currently reviewing its strategic plan and prioritising key regional issues for its action agenda for 2015 – 2019.  National consultations in each of the five East African countries are currently ongoing and findings will be brought together at EACSOF’s General Council meeting in early 2015.

In his welcoming address to the Kenya consultation in October 2014, Morris Odhiambo, Chair of the Kenya EACSOF Chapter captured the vision of EACSOF: “Regionalism is a global movement and the voices of the most disadvantaged citizens must be heard”.


Sharing best practices on health service governance


By involving people in marginalised and rural communities in the processes that determine their health services and policies, health outcomes for those communities will be improved.


Health Poverty Action is helping civil society organisations in Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda to build their capacity to share best practices for the participation of marginalised groups in health service governance. This project is looking at the participatory structures that are already in place in three African countries – Kenya, Rwanda and Namibia – and exploring how they can be enhanced, documented, and potentially scaled up and shared with other countries.

At the moment, a Community Conversation approach is being used in Kenya, where solutions are directly sought from communities themselves through discussion sessions with community leaders and influencers, facilitated by trained moderators. In Namibia, designated Clinic Health Committees (CHCs) support dialogues with health service providers to make sure solutions are relevant, culturally appropriate and fit to meet the needs of the communities. And in Rwanda, the traditional Ubudehe social protection system sees communities – under the guidance of trained facilitators – select a priority community project from a list of options and decide collectively on actions to take.

With a grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, Health Poverty Action is helping civil society organisations in each of these countries to build their capacity to support and enhance these systems. The organisations in Namibia and Rwanda are supported in building Kenya’s Community Conversation into their systems, while also being trained in participatory methods that help them to draw inputs and contributions from communities that have previously been unable to make their voices heard on this vital aspect of their existence. In each country meetings will be held with decision makers to share their learnings on participatory methods, with the aim of embedding the on-going contributions of these under-heard communities into the fabric of their national healthcare systems.

The Commonwealth Foundation awarded a grant of up to £45,000 over 18 months for this project.

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Giving a voice to women


In the aftermath of the genocide, women had to live with the social stigma of the sexual violence they suffered. The national government made attempts to improve the rights of those women and the resources available to them, and this project aims to help more women to embrace those reforms and apply them to help themselves and others.


The Faces of Life project, run by Kemit asbl, supports and empowers women to use media and resources to speak up for themselves and to encourage others to do so as well.

Women will be trained to create visual art projects, expressing issues of importance to them. Exhibitions of these art projects will tour throughout Rwanda providing an opportunity for civil society organisations, members of the public and local leaders at various levels of governance to gather together and discuss the issues leading to greater awareness of stigma and taboos on womens’ lives.

KEMIT asbl has worked in cinema and audio visual trainings, film, video and TV productions for 12 years and is using this experience to train the women involved in how to advocate for policy reform for the issues that affect them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAsN0KDpoW0?rel=0]

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Promoting fair trade networks


Fair trade between Commonwealth nations is recognised as vital in order to drive business.


Shared Interest Foundation is promoting fair trade in Africa by giving three networks a chance to share experiences and learn from each other.

With a grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, Shared Interest Foundation is collaborating on joint activities to allow greater networking and sharing of benefits, as well as learning from the success and failure of others. It will allow time and space for critical reflection involving those working in a similar context as well as those without any prior knowledge, helping to create a more objective analysis of progress, challenges, barriers, hopes and opportunities.

Focusing on learning by seeing and doing, project partners will visit each other’s operations and meet members, producers and board members to hear a wide range of experiences about how projects and schemes, such as income generation activities, have worked in reality.

The project has a strong emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and staff exchanges working in different country contexts. This project also responds to the 2013 Commonwealth Theme ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’.

Shared Interest Foundation, UK

Shared Interest Foundation was formed in 2004 as the charitable arm of Shared Interest Society.

It uses the pooled investments of its members in the UK to effect real and lasting improvements to people’s lives in poorer parts of the world. The organisation has an extensive knowledge of the fair trade sector, with prior experience of managing capacity building exchange projects through the Commonwealth Local Government Forum. It has worked directly with fair trade businesses in Africa for nine years.


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