Germaine Ujeneza had always wanted to start her own business. With limited resources, she had to use what was available—and started making recyclable materials into jewellery, clothing, and homeware. Today, she provides training to other women, combining two of her passions: environmental protection and women’s empowerment.
In Rwanda, climate change and unpredictable, ever-changing seasonal variations have aggravated gender inequalities and socioeconomic vulnerabilities for women and girls. While both women and men put pressures on natural resources for their survival, women are uniquely affected by environmental degradation.
However, women are not only victims of climate change—they can also be catalysts for positive change, says entrepreneur and environmental activist Germaine Ujeneza, for instance by engaging in projects of nature conservation.
“If women engage in these projects, there can be an improvement in climate change.”
Getting women engaged in fighting environmental degradation, while at the same time empowering them to take up income-generating activities, is a passion of Germaine and the reason she has started to provide trainings for women in Musanze, a district located in the Northern Province of Rwanda.
“As women, we always struggle with capital to start income-generating activities. As an innovator, I looked at something that has been assumed to have lost value and turned it into something valuable that generates money,” says Germaine.
It all started with her own entrepreneurship. Germaine, who had always wanted to start her own business, did not have the capital to do so at first. Instead, she decided to rely on available resources such as plastic and old pieces of clothes and began creating jewellery, decorations such as flowerpots, as well as bags and clothing from them.
Germaine’s business really started to take off after she had come in contact with AKWOS, one of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisations in Rwanda that works to empower women through sports and education.
“I heard of AKWOS in 2019. They were searching for an empowered woman who has developed herself—so leaders of the village I lived in gave my name to AKWOS,” says Germaine. “The first thing they helped me with was training on entrepreneurship and on how to manage time, profit and other things that can help in business. AKWOS also created a platform for me and allowed me to meet with other women which helped me to expand.”
Germaine began volunteering for the organisation and became increasingly involved. She continued making her decorations and sustainable arts—but now, she also had a space for sharing her knowledge with others.
In 2020, Germaine began training other women and girls through various projects. With the help of AKWOS, she travelled to other villages in the district of Musanze to teach women about nature conservation and train them on transforming recyclable materials into products they could sell while protecting the environment:
“I taught women about using plastic bottles that did not require a lot of money to start a business. I know about fashion and making nice clothes. I know about finding job opportunities for women and girls,” says Germaine.
Helping women to develop their skill sets and finding ways out of poverty, while positively contributing to environmental protection, are key motivators for Germaine. Organisations such as AKWOS and The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation further drive her to continue her work:
“Knowing that you are supported and that someone is having your back gives you courage,” she says.
That is why women need more support, both to be able to get involved in environmental protection and to set up businesses and income-generating activities.
“Many women are willing to work but due to lack of support, they end up failing to continue their projects,” Germaine explains.
In 2014, Germaine received an award by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority for her work to protect the environment. Currently, she is planning to write a book on pushing women and girls to be a part of the fight against environmental degradation.
“I wish for every woman and girl standing to fight environmental degradation and to shape a better future,” says Germaine about her hopes for coming years.
“I’m looking forward to a future without disease, a future without hunger and a future with good oxygen. A future where living organisms living in water and on the ground are protected, and a good future for everyone living in the world.”