KIGALI—Rwanda has made major strides over the last decade in boosting growth, reducing poverty, and tackling gender inequality. From 2001-2012, its real GDP growth averaged 8.1 percent while the poverty rate fell from 59 percent in 2001 to 45 percent in 2011. It also has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world, with 63.8 percent of seats in the lower house occupied by women.
But numerous challenges remain, particularly for young women in this youthful, densely populated country in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
The country’s large youth cohort—some 19 percent of the population is aged 15-24—faces major obstacles in entering the work force. Adolescent girls face the added burdens of widespread early childbearing, high fertility, and gender-based violence. Young women are also less likely than their male peers to complete secondary education, limiting their opportunities and ability to work their way out of poverty.
To tackle these challenges, the Rwanda Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) launched a pilot program in 2012 to boost job skills and incomes among disadvantaged adolescent girls and young women, aged 15-24, in two urban and two rural districts of Rwanda.
Young women get six months of skills training in areas such as food processing, culinary arts, arts and crafts, and agri-business—complemented by life skills courses, social support, and mentoring. Participants also receive support to form cooperatives and connect with the private sector, including exporters: One public-private partnership is helping participants break into high-end US and Japanese markets.
Three cohorts of young women—2,007 in all—will have completed training in September 2014. While the project is still in the pilot stage, anecdotal evidence suggests it is having a positive impact on the lives of participants.
For example, 23 girls who studied food processing at the Gaculiro Training Center in Kigali have been placed in two-month internships with local industries.