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Tanzania: Transforming the lives of women and children

A truly amazing woman from Tanzania is transforming the lives of women and children and entire communities. Aginatha Festo Rutazaa, is a community worker who lives in the village of Moshi, near Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In 2009, Aginatha  participated in Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) in Montreal in 2009 where she came to understand that by financially empowering women who were traditionally marginalized and at risk, they could solve many of their problems and improve their living conditions themselves. Upon her return to Tanzania, this single mother of two left her secure job to start a new organization, Tusonge – a Swahili word meaning “let’s move forward”.  Through local workshops, she began coaching women who were selling second hand clothes in local markets on how to borrow and invest. She helped them develop a plan of action for the improvement of the status of women which was publicized and discussed during the local elections.  She encouraged women to vote and to run for office.  She helped the women start a credit circle.  She helped them become aware of and fight for their inheritance rights. And…. the community began to change.  Women were talking.  Women were being heard.  Women were voting.  More women than ever before were elected at the district level.  They were becoming more successful at business and thus had more money – they could afford to send their kids to school.  They invested in and managed the credit circle, lending money to women who needed it and supporting other members of the community who were in need.  They could afford better food and nutrition, which in turn improved their health, and the health of their children and those living with HIV/AIDS.  They helped a widow reclaim her matrimonial home after customary practices had forced her out following her husband’s death. This was all unheard of before.  These women, who were living hand-to-mouth, selling second hand clothes in the market, many infected by their husbands with HIV/AIDS and cast out, unable to properly care for themselves and their families, with no support systems…these women went from marginalized second class citizens to women who were lobbying for property rights, voting and being elected, forming and running credit circles, developing their businesses, improving their health and that of their families, ensuring their children’s education…and this happened in less than one year.  Aginatha tells us: ” It is Equitas which raised my understanding and interest to start this organization which  supports women. The IHRTP programme was an eye opener to me.   It helped me find the gold within me”

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