Same Sky, led by Francine LeFrak, provides employment to more than 30 HIV-positive women survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide by training them to crochet bracelets. I was pleased to see that Same Sky also offers exquisite special-order necklaces to complement the bracelets. Each necklace and bracelet comes with a signature of the woman who made it, which allows the owner to directly connect with the individual artisan.
Guest of honor at the Saks event was the First Lady of Rwanda, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, a dignified and charismatic woman who is championing empowerment and HIV/AIDS projects in her country. In 2007 she created the Imbuto Foundation to pioneer initiatives on health, education and economic empowerment in Rwanda.
According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 250,000 women were subjected to sexual violence during the genocide, and many later became HIV-positive. With statistics like these, it is no surprise organizations like Imbuto Foundation and Same Sky are working tirelessly to increase women’s empowerment and to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
HE Mrs. Kagame spoke about the progress Rwanda is making in fighting HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. “Eighty percent of those infected with HIV are on antiretrovirals. And our maternal health initiatives are reducing the number of children born HIV-positive, with the goal of eradicating HIV from newborns by 2015.”
In recent years, Rwanda has been lauded for its progress in advancing women’s rights. According to the Guardian News, women occupy some of the most important government ministries and make up 56 percent of the country’s parliamentarians, including the speaker. By law, women must have at least 30 percent of the seats in Rwanda’s national and local government. Political gender equality in Rwanda has outpaced that of the US, where women made up only 18 percent of the US Congress prior to the November 2010 elections.
HE Mrs. Kagame noted that Rwanda’s men are responding positively to women’s leadership. “Men have been an integral part of women’s empowerment,” she said. “There was political will to increase gender equity in Rwanda and our men have supported it. Although women have become more empowered in Rwanda, they still play their traditional roles in the home, which helps to maintain family harmony.”
In reference to Same Sky’s role in empowering Rwandan women, Ms. LeFrak remarked, “Our message is that women are in this together, owning our power, all living under the same sky. With the purchase of a bracelet, you become fashionable, socially mindful, and part of the powerful circle connecting women everywhere.”
I showed my support by purchasing a Galaxy bracelet that evening. I was instantly impressed by the quality of the workmanship. The hand blown, purple iridescent glass beads had been crocheted together on the non-stretch cord with utmost care and attention to detail. Though it is the season for giving, my fashion sense compelled me to keep the beautiful bracelet for myself.
I was initially drawn to my bracelet’s purple iridescent glow, but later remembered that the color purple is also deeply meaningful in Rwanda. The color of mourning, purple is worn during the nation’s genocide commemoration ceremonies, which begin April 7 each year. Each time I wear my Same Sky bracelet, I will reflect not only on the special evening at Saks, but also on the example this small African country has set in combating ethnic conflict, reducing HIV/AIDS, and advancing opportunities for women.