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Women's Rights? Let's Talk About Poverty First on International Women's Day 2016

08/03/2016 11:00 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Women's rights are for those who have an income. In order to put the international into this year's theme for International Women's Day, 'pledge for parity', first we need to tackle poverty.

Many poor women in Africa still receive little or no education, are unlikely to find a job which will enable them to earn a living and are certainly not equal - in fact they are at the bottom of the pile. These women face so many problems that their 'rights' are a long way from their minds. However, I have seen that change when they graduate from Hand in Hand's enterprise development training program which, not only gives them business skills but improves their self- esteem as well. When a woman runs a small business and earns an income this strengthens her voice in the family and equal rights follow.

From poverty to business success

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Take Rahabu who lives in a tiny hamlet in Rwanda. Today she is a business woman, employer, farmer, mother, respected member of the community and equal partner at home. In short, the epitome of the modern woman whom we are celebrating this International Women's Day. However, just a few years ago poverty and hunger dominated her every waking hour.

I will let Rahabu herself explain: "We used to work in the fields for others from six in the morning until six at night and still we could not afford to feed everyone. Honestly, sometimes I could not even afford to buy salt, and that is the cheapest thing. I only had one set of clothes and I could not afford to buy the soap to clean them".

"We grew crops to eat, nothing more. I had seen people making money by selling tomatoes but could not do this myself".

Despite living in poverty women like Rahabu are ambitious. Give them the means and the know how to work their way out of poverty and they will grab it with both hands. It starts with saving, understanding and controlling their finances.

"I learned to save. I used to go to the market to buy salt and while I was there I might see some tomatoes which looked nice so I would buy those too. I don't do that anymore. I buy what I need and save the rest."

"At the savings group I also learned how to be an entrepreneur - what to sell, when to sell it and how to make money. Not to sell everything as soon as the harvest comes in because this is when the price is lowest. Instead I keep some back ready to sell when the price goes up".

Rahabu the shopkeeper

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Today Rahabu owns her own shop and the income she earns gives her an equal say in the family and in the village, "My husband can see that I am good at selling and so I run the shop and he takes care of the fields. In fact today he has taken some aubergines to market on his bicycle and he will come back with about $8".

"I am respected by my neighbours and village leaders. Even the local leaders know who I am and that I contribute to the development of the village."