WomenCraft is a community-driven social enterprise that designs, produces and exports hand-woven home décor items made from natural fibers and vibrant fabrics of East Africa.
Operating from Ngara, Tanzania, within the post-conflict tri-border area of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania, WomenCraft employs more than 300 rural East African women, who express their culture and talents to create products that are beautiful, functional, and durable. Our artisans advance themselves, raise stronger families, stimulate their local economies and inspire the world around them.
MISSION. and principles
WomenCraft’s mission is to increase economic opportunity in the post-conflict, refugee-impacted area of Northwestern Tanzania by bringing rural women together through a social enterprise, facilitating their growth and connecting their artistry to the global marketplace. Here are the principles that guide our mission every day:
Artisan-powered. Artisans are the driving force behind WomenCraft and the ultimate reason it exists. As artisan leaders gain skills, knowledge and economic independence, they assume greater levels of responsibility in the enterprise. Ultimately, WomenCraft aims to be completely artisan-owned and operated.
Fair. WomenCraft is a social enterprise operating under fair-trade principles. WomenCraft goes beyond fair trade wage scales to pay its artisans livable wages. WomenCraft is designed so that any profit from our sales is utilized for Social Impact projects, which benefit the artisans, their families and the communities in which they live.
Ethical. Our natural, hand-made products preserve cultural traditions and the local environment. The grasses and banana stalk used in production are cultivated locally; the fabrics are purchased in the local markets. WomenCraft revives the importance of basket weaving in the area by enabling women to pass on the basket weaving tradition to their daughters as an income generating opportunity.
Market-Driven. WomenCraft’s business model and product line are based on the results of a market feasibility study. We design, produce, market, and deliver high-quality, ethically made products that are functional and beautiful.
Peace-Centered. Rural women from three countries work as one organization with one common goal. These relationships reduce tensions between former refugees and refugee-hosting communities and build unity in a post-conflict region.
WHERE. we work
Our products are handmade in Mafigamatatu, East Africa – the tri-border area of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. This extraordinary, rarely-visited part of the world is defined by green hills, river valleys and its distinctive culture. The two civil wars that plagued the area have resulted in refugee-impacted areas in need of development, and former refugees that yearn to rebuild their lives. Our operations are based out of Ngara district, Tanzania.
Tanzania is a peaceful and beautiful, yet economically poor, country in East Africa, ranking among the 10 poorest countries in the world. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1961, Tanzania has been one of the only countries in the region to remain at peace. However, life is a daily struggle for many Tanzanians.
• 89% of population below international poverty line of $1.25 USD per day. The annual income is less than $260 USD per year, or 71 cents per day.
• Most Tanzanians are villagers and 80% of the workforce are farmers.
• Life expectancy is 44 years.
• There are well over 2 million orphans in the country.
• About 1/3 of the population is malnourished.
• Most villages are remote, lacking clean water, schools and basic heath services.
• 1 in 6 children do not reach their 5th birthday. Most die from preventable diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections.
WomenCraft operates in one of the poorest and most inaccessible regions in Tanzania.
• 78% of households report food scarcity.
• The average annual income is less than $110 USD.
• Ngara’s literacy rate is only 49%, compared to 76% for the country as a whole.
• There is no industry or manufacturing in Ngara.
• 90% of residents are subsistence farmers. Subsistence farming is farming that provides basic needs without surpluses that can be sold.
• WomenCraft is the only economic development project for women in the area.
HOW. we started
WomenCraft began as an implementing partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In 2004, UNHCR and its international development partners, through the generous support of the European Union, began a pilot project to map the needs of refugees in Tanzania, and to determine how to address those needs.
The Needs Assessment revealed a need “to improve the freedom of movement and the ability to achieve self-reliance” for refugee women and the need for “refugees to be given access to skills, capital and equipment” to enable them to establish “small scale industries within the settlements.”
WomenCraft’s founder, Ms. Heidi Christ, had been working with the UNHCR and with Lutheran World Federation to assist Burundian and Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. She found that local Tanzanian women faced the same economic and social challenges as refugee women: they had no way to earn a livable wage, yet felt the pressures of taking care of their families. They shouldered the responsibilities for their children’s education, the family’s health, farming, food preparation, and childcare. Decades of conflict and civil wars in the region had affected not only the refugees, but also had created local tension and obstructed local development. Yet, Burundian refugees and the Tanzanian host community possessed commonalities- a similar spoken language, similar cultural heritage and traditions and talented weaving skills.
During this work, the vision for WomenCraft was born: to bring the Burundian and Tanzanian women together through the shared goal of economic empowerment. The design capitalized on the weaving talents of both populations and built on their commonalities of language and culture while reducing post-conflict tensions. Women would build WomenCraft into their own social enterprise that would bring income, self-development and support for one another. The end result would be a better standard of living for themselves, their families and their communities.
With the financial assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Kingdom, WomenCraft got its start in August 2007. Since then, WomenCraft has grown into a dynamic, not-for-profit enterprise registered in Tanzania.
WHY. we do
– We do to empower women: because they are the crucial change makers who improve life for their families & communities?.
– We do in Mafigamatatu: because it is one of the most affected border areas in the world with 3 populations who have either lived as refugees or have hosted refugee communities for decades.
– We do with weaving: because it a unique skill the women possess and it is being lost.
Women are the change makers. When women and girls earn money, they invest 90% in their families, compared to 30-40% for men. When women have direct control over income, they tend to spend it on the family, particularly on the “nutritional security” of more vulnerable family members.
Women are the ones who can offer the most effective solutions for poverty reduction. However, they face many challenges:
- Women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own 1% of the property.
- 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 a day are women or girls.
- Women work longer hours for less pay and in worse jobs than men in every country in the world. If doing the same work, women make roughly two-thirds what a man would make.
Through WomenCraft, this can change as our artisans become empowered.
The empowerment of women is key to:
- raising child nutrition levels
- improving distribution and production of food,
- enhancing the living conditions of rural, poor, and vulnerable populations
80% of the world’s refugees live in developing nations. Women and children comprise 75-80% of refugees worldwide. A large proportion of war casualties are civilians, many of whom are women and children. Up to 80% of casualties from small fire arms are women and children (UNHCR, 2002). Women and young girls are at greater risk of sexual violence during war and when fleeing from conflict.
Sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced impregnation, forced abortion, trafficking, sexual slavery and the intentional spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, are the defining characteristics of contemporary armed conflict (UNHCR, 2008).
Refugees in Tanzania
Ngara district has been hosting refugees from neighboring countries since the 1950s. The peak was 1994 when hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled into Tanzania to escape the genocide. By the end of 1994, over 700,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees had settled in refugee camps in Kagera region, more than double the local population.
Employment for refugees was prohibited and they did not have a right to land for farming. Therefore, they were dependent on humanitarian organizations to provide them with their basic needs.
Hosting has brought unintended impacts to the local community in Ngara district – food insecurity, higher rates of HIV/AIDS infection, environmental degradation, and tension between communities. Although the last refugee camp in Ngara closed in June 2008, the effects of the long-staying refugee population can still be felt in the district.
Refugees who have returned home have to cope with a severe shortage of one of the tiny country’s most precious commodities: land. Without land, they are unable to farm and provide food for their families.
WomenCraft continues to support and work with approximately 70 Burundian women. Many of these women face facing difficult living conditions and need an income to rebuild their lives.
WHAT. we’ve done
To be added
WHO. is involved
Ernestina Mpinzire, Director
Kara Hook, Grants and Finance Manager
Aaron Nkware, Social Impact Manager
Edron Mwaku, Dar Sales Representative
Stephanie Kimou, Sales and Marketing Manager
Angelika Reuben, Chair of the Artisan Advisory Board
Leslie Riekenberg, Capacity Building Manager
The Board of Advisors.
Heidi Christ, Founder
Vera den Otter
Corona Society of Tanzania
Diplomatic Spouses Group of Tanzania
Herbert Smith Fund
Hosanna Lutheran Church, Houston Texas USA
Margaret Lingoul Fund
United States of America, Embassy of Tanzania
Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), Netherlands Government
European Union, EU Tanzania
And our gracious individual customers, donors and volunteers