AGINATHA RUTAZAA – Tanzania
This story is part of the series We are human rights changemakers to celebrate Equitas’ 50th anniversary (#Equitas50). All through 2017, we invite you to discover stories of 50 inspiring human rights changemakers. These are but a few of the hundreds who have changed lives around the world through human rights education with Equitas’ support.
When her husband died in 1993, Aginatha Rutazaa was left to raise her two daughters on her own. She knew it was up to her and her girls to decide what they wanted to achieve and to work together to achieve it. “I was the only one who could help myself and I did that by working hard.”
Aginatha taught chemistry at the local high school. She realized that the rights of girls were not well supported by the education system and that they weren’t capable of speaking up for themselves. “As a widow, I was more reflective,” she said. “I saw what was happening and wanted to do something to empower them. So I decided to go back to school to get my Master’s Degree in Community Economic Development.”
Because she needed to continue to work to support her daughters, Aginatha chose to make her thesis study close to home. She worked with at risk women in her community to better understand the challenges they faced on a daily basis
A number of women had been infected with HIV/AIDS by their husbands and cast out. Most were living hand to mouth, doing whatever they could to generate income to help support themselves and their families. They didn’t know their rights or what they could do to get justice.
After Aginatha attended the Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) in Montreal, Canada, in 2009 and again in 2013 as a co-facilitator, she realized that in order to help the women who needed it most, she had to stop doing what she was doing. “The program brought together participants from around the globe. We discussed the human rights issues and challenges we faced at home,” she said. “It reinforced for me that we all have human rights regardless of who we are or where we come from and we have the obligation to fight for those rights. The program gave me the tools and the confidence to move my work forward.”
When she returned home, Aginatha left her formal employment and started a community development organization called Tusonge – a Swahili word meaning let’s move forward. “I needed the flexibility to go into the community to work with the women at a grassroots level,” she said.
“I wanted to help the women see things differently, to know their rights and understand their potential. I didn’t want them to feel humiliated because their partners, their community or cultural practices undermined them.”
Through local workshops she coached them on their rights, taught them to develop business plans, start credit circles and find their voice. And things began to change. The women went from marginalized, second-class citizens to empowered women who were developing and running viable, profitable businesses.
- Yusta Kimario, a widow and mother of three children, improved her fish-selling business and moved her family from a mud house to a newly constructed, modern home with solar power.
- Agness Kambi changed from selling French fries to school pupils to operating a motorbike transportation business. With the profit she made, she opened a hair salon.
- Aishi Maimu started a poultry business. Today she is the key supplier of eggs to her community.
- At eighty-two years old, Mary Jacob improved her knowledge and record-keeping skills. With the profit she made from her milk business, she started the construction of a modern house for herself and her grandchildren – something she never thought was possible at her age.
- And there are 33 women, who are part of Tusonge, who own land and have the title deeds for themselves. In a country dictated by a culture that feels only men can be property and business owners, this is a huge step forward.
Since Tusonge began, 750 people have directly benefited from the project. Of these, 76 are men who asked to join the organization because they saw the value in what the women were doing. They saw the difference they were making in their communities in terms of livelihood, socio-economic status and in the overall health and education support of their families.
“Having male role models and ambassadors is so important because the men will listen to them. They have the power to communicate that it’s high time to make changes and to demonstrate though evidence-based examples the benefits of men and women moving forward together.”
AGINATHA RUTAZAA – Tanzania
Founder and Managing Director of Tusonge
Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) Alumnus, 2009; IHRTP co-facilitator, 2013
* She is one of the pioneers of the East African Alumni. Her organization recently hosted the 4th EAHRP in which more than 157 grassroots, human rights defenders from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and Somalia participated.
Story prepared by Marnie Hill Communications, Life Story Writers
Member of the Association of Personal Historians
Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program is undertaken in part with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.
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