“It will be the best experience of your life.”

As young women's rights activists and defenders, we have so many questions in our heads. We often face issues relating to women's rights that are complex or misunderstood. This scholarship is a way to find answers, says Nathalie Ndimubanzi Umutoni, former holder of the 1325-scholarship, in memory of Zaida Catalán.

The scholarship gave you an opportunity to pursue an internship with the Swedish organization Kvinna till Kvinna in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) back in 2021. What was it like?

The 1325-scholarship is an opening for personal training and constructive experiences on the topic of women, peace and security. It gave me the opportunity to interact with women from different backgrounds, acquiring knowledge about various perspectives and approaches related to the theme.

Before starting my scholarship, I imagined that the learning methodology would involve taking a pen and a notebook and learn lengthy theories on different approaches and thematic relating to the 1325-resolution. Surprisingly, I discovered that the training was almost completely practical. My host organization, Kvinna till Kvinna, entrusted me with full responsibilities and the same conditions as those of a real Program Officer. It gave me so much confidence and it brought me professional growth. I also integrated easily with the team and the organization’s partners.

Can you share something from your scholarship, a specific activity, task or an encounter that came to have a significant importance for your continued work related to the 1325-agenda or your understanding of these questions?

One of my tasks was to support my host organization in collecting success stories of women from different backgrounds. Women who have fought for their rights and won their case. It was in this context that I came to know Esperance Zawadi, a primary school teacher and mother of five children. She faced a situation where her husband imposed upon her to choose between her job and her marriage. She eventually found herself abandoned by her family and lost her job. This turned her life upside down. Thanks to a civil society organization that conducted sensitization activities in her village, she rose to claim her rights and finally won; she got her job back and reunited with her children.

At the time we met, she was still facing pressure from the family who wanted her to go back with her husband, who mistreated her. For them, a woman has no value unless she is married to a man. But she kept fighting for her case, and as soon as she had won, she committed to supporting other women in her village, who were experiencing sexual gender violence. What impressed me the most was the level of resilience this woman had developed and her ability to challenge social norms while preserving her principles and values. Thanks to her story, I better understood the negative power that backward social norms have on women's rights and in many areas, such as social, economic, and political. These norms and customs constitute a real obstacle that will not be overcome without the involvement of women themselves.

What are you working with today?

Shortly after my scholarship year, I was hired by XOESE, the Fund for Francophone Women, as a grant program assistant. I was offered this position because of my achievements during the scholarship. It was also thanks to the scholarship that Kvinna till Kvinna discovered my skills and later offered me a position. Since December 2022, I work as a Program Officer with them. So, this scholarship really opens the door to professional opportunities. It has allowed me to build my CV, become clearer about my professional ambitions and envision a bright future.

What would you say to other women who might be considering applying for the 1325 scholarship?

I strongly encourage young women to apply. To all young women who feel interested and who are still hesitant, take your courage in both hands and get started. If you are lucky to be selected, it will be the best experience of your life, as it was for me. This scholarship will allow you to develop yourself personally and professionally, and above all – it will allow you to have a clear idea of what you want to do later.

Read more about the 1325-scholarship for women, peace and security, in memory of Zaida Catalán, and apply here.

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