Claudine Nikuze is forty years old, with two children. Claudine dropped out of school at 16 and started trading at the evening markets in her village, with less than 2,000 Rwandan francs to her name. At 29, she started crossing the border from Rwanda to Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, to sell vegetables and fruits. As a result, her capital increased to 7,000 Rwandan francs.
After the death of her father, however, Claudine had to take on the additional responsibility of taking care of all the family. Her business suffered, she was unable to cross the border anymore, much of the capital she raised previously was being used at home. To try to make ends meet she decided to return to the evening markets in the village.
In March 2019, Claudine learned of our Creating off-farm Rwandan enterprises (CORE) project that supports women cross-border traders boost the potential of their trade and works to foster an environment of entrepreneurship for women and youth in Nyamasheke and Rusizi Districts. The project is helping to challenge gender norms and moving women from being economically marginalised to becoming empowered so that they too can play a part and have a say in how peace is built in their communities. Claudine says,
Men want to be superior in everything. They think women are nothing and we cannot live without them. Since childhood I have never accepted to be taken for granted, we are all equal before God, why be mistreated?
Claudine registered to take part in the CORE project and started to attend trainings on business management and dialogue meetings, which discuss issues such as, equal access to resources (financial services, land etc), women’s inheritance and full rights on land registration, gender-based violence, how and why gender equality is relevant in business management, understanding people’s different experiences of conflict, business registration and other business hinderances etc. Such discussions allow businesses and entrepreneurs to work together with local leaders to overcome barriers to business operations and growth and address the concerns of community members.
Securing her business
Claudine was encouraged by other participants in the training to join a savings group. She secured a loan worth 15,000 Rwandan francs from the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) to improve and invest in her business.
Despite being discouraged by others, Claudine moved closer to the cross-border trade market and hired a stall where she could sell tomatoes. Using the knowledge she gained from the business trainings and dialogue sessions, along with good investment and enough savings, Claudine now has a permanent stall where her customers can easily locate her. Her goods are now secure from being stolen, rain does not cause her work to be put on hold and she is no longer worried about being harassed.
“Before I joined this market, I was crossing over to Bukavu every day carrying a basin of tomatoes or other goods depending on the market demand. In Bukavu, there are no constructed affordable markets, so I would walk street-to-street, house to house looking for buyers. Some customers would refuse to pay me, security organisations would take my things and I had nowhere to report it, above all I was always tired because of walking across the border and then coming home to take care of people." Caludine goes on to say,
Ever since International Alert encouraged us to join this market, the suffering I endured has become history
Claudine's dream is to save at least 800,000 Rwandan Francs and expand her business further.
Through the trainings and dialogue sessions, business is being leveraged to adopt conflict and gender sensitive practices. It is also being used to collectively influence post conflict development policies and practices for more inclusive and sustainable development within communities, and end all kinds of violence and gender issues women and youth cross-border traders face in their daily work. Conflict hampers trade and socio-economic development and peace does the opposite.