DONATHA: I am Donatha Gihana from Rwanda, married with 2 sons and 1 daughter. I hold a BA in Education with a major in Economics, MSc in Gender and Development and I am passionate about pursuing a PhD in Gender Studies in the near future. For the past 15 years, I have worked on gender issues with a particular focus on girls and women’s rights in education and leadership. I have extensive experience and knowledge in gender policy influence, advocacy, mainstreaming and training. I have also extensively engaged in the implementation of various gender programmes with specialty in women and adolescent girls’ leadership, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Education. I have also worked with the Government of Rwanda on gender and poverty reduction issues and economic planning (Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy I and II).
Currently, I serve as the Council President for the Rwanda Association of University Women (RAUW) and also the Founder of Young Women Empowered (YWE) - Ngeruka Initiative – which is aimed at educating, empowering and engaging with rural adolescent girls to be agents of change in their own communities.
AMwA: Which animal character would you best relate yourself to and why?
DONATHA: I relate myself to a Lion -- because it is the King of the Jungle and no other animal can easily attack it.
AMwA: Who is your favorite African Female author?
DONATHA: It is none other than Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I like her feminist writing and I enjoying listening to her TED Talks.
AMwA: What were your expectations before joining the AWLI and did the Institute live up to these expectations?
DONATHA: Before joining AWLI in 2006, I was expecting to learn more about the gender equality issues that I am so passionate about. As a young woman leader at the Universi who was very passionate about gender equality---I trusted the AWLI to help me to get to the roots of the Feminist Movement as well as understand the fundamentals of Feminism. Through the AWLI I knew I would connect with other young women leaders from other parts of Africa and in the East African region in particular—some of whom are still my friends up-to-date. I strongly admit that the training met my expectations – It exposed me to a lot of information on feminism, movement building and much more importantly the various inspirational speakers that held discussions with us. All this was such a very enriching experience!
AMwA: What exactly about the experience at the institute was transcendent to your work today?
DONATHA: The training gave me a very strong foundation and I have continued to use Feminist principles even in my every day work. It ignited my passion to date and I have continuously engaged in gender or girls and women empowerment issues at both national, regional and international levels. During the training, we also learnt about the value of belonging to Feminist networks and today am an active member of various women movements including FEMNET, AWID and GWI.
AMwA: How were your interactions with faculty, who were they and how exactly did they impact your journey during AWLI and beyond?
DONATHA: The Faculty were friendly and they were indeed true role models who spoke from their heart and soul. I was greatly motivated and inspired by Stella Mukasa and Dr. Sylvia Tamale’s sessions.
AMwA: How important is sisterhood and networking in your line of work? How did AWLI influence your power to network?
DONATHA: AWLI helped me understand that Feminists belong to various networks and it is important to build and sustain our Sisterhood through these networks. This has not only helped me have and feel a sense of belonging even when I am out of Rwanda, but it is always fulfilling to learn and connect with other like-minded individuals – to exchange ideas, best practices as well as learn from our various challenges.
AMwA: The AWLI Alumna of the month of August Ms. Anne Marie Caulker spoke about self-care and how this should be taken seriously among aspiring feminist leaders. What advice would you give future AWLI fellows?
DONATHA: The World is moving fast and so is the Feminist Movement. In doing so, my message to the AWLI Fellows is to; keep alert and actively engaged – use all the existing opportunities especially in this digital era to stay connected with what’s going on in the Movement.
AMwA: Where did your passion for feminist leadership stem from? What adversities have you faced during your journey, how have you conquered them?
DONATHA: I strongly believe in the power of women and I observed this when I was growing up as a child and a Rwandese refugee in Uganda. I grew up in a family with parents who tried their best in a foreign land to provide for their children especially my mother who worked so hard to educate and provide for her six children. A woman who stood for her rights even in this foreign land. I knew that nothing is going to stop me in this world from emulating her, that’s where my passion for feminism stems.
AMwA: If you were asked to identify one woman who has impacted society, who would you nominate and why?
DONATHA: My heart never stops to celebrate the illiterate, poor mothers in this World; who work so hard every day to provide for their children even with the least resources; those are the Women that have mostly impacted our society.
AMwA: Sometimes the work we do can be challenging and draining at the same time; what do you to renew your energies?
DONATHA: Whenever I feel totally drained, I regain energy when I spend time with my loved ones especially my Mother; I really thank God who has kept her for me. I also love networking with much older feminist Sisters in Rwanda and other parts of the World, whom I treasure as the source of wisdom and advice.
We trust that you enjoyed Donatha’s AWLI experience and look forward to other exciting AWLI Alumni stories!