Denise Nishimwe is a 30-year-old woman who lives in Muko sector, Musanze District, Rwanda with her two sons (aged eight and six), two daughters (aged four and one), and her mother. She no longer lives with her husband as they are divorced, and she lives in a house that the local authority built for her as she did not have one. Her sons attend school while her daughters remain with her at home. Denise herself has not attended any formal education. Denise is a beneficiary of an ActionAid women’s economic empowerment (WEE) programme which supports smallholder farmers with modern farming, post-harvest management and market linkages. There are no childcare centres in her village and so she takes her two young children to the WEE site or sometimes leaves them with her neighbours. She walks for 20–25 minutes to reach the WEE site. The income that she earns through her work in the WEE programme is not enough to sustain her family and she sometimes works for her neighbours to earn additional income when she has not gone to the WEE site.
Denise is responsible for the household’s care activities, and does the majority of them herself, such as cleaning the house and the compound, washing clothes, cooking, fetching water, doing farming, taking care of her children, and sometimes taking care of her mother. Her mother occasionally helps with care tasks, but is too old to do any physical activities. When Denise is not around, her son takes over the responsibilities of fetching water, collecting firewood, cleaning the compound and the house, taking care of his siblings, and sometimes preparing food.
Combining paid work and care work seems to be very tiresome for Denise. In addition, doing paid work interferes with her ability to complete her care work: ‘It is so tiresome; I am not able to do all the care work at home on time.’ Doing care work and paid work also affects her children as it replaces the time she would spend with them. Her son also feels that combining paid and unpaid work is not for his mother, and states,
‘You see my mother is the one who provides everything in the family; so it is difficult for her to combine paid and unpaid care work.’
As her son replaces her in the care activities when she is not at home, it also interferes with his school work and means that he is not able to rest; Denise says,
My son gets tired too since he combines school and unpaid work at home. It is so tiresome and he does not get enough time to play with friends due to some duties assigned to him by me and at some point this affects his performance at school.
Similarly, combining care work and paid work prevents Denise from participating in community work and contributing to the development of her village.
Denise would like to see her ex-husband taking on some of the care work of their children. She would also like financial contribution from him for family care, especially by providing food and scholarly materials for the children. She urges the WEE programme to increase the funding and provide training on farming techniques. She would also be pleased if she could receive credit to start a business.