11 Oct Embracing Gender-Transformative Change:

EMBRACE Rwanda Puts Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy into Action

Guest blog post with EMBRACE Volunteer Program Development Coordinator, Vanessa Parlette


“Canada is adopting a feminist international policy to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as the most effective way to reduce poverty and build a more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous world.”
– Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canadian Minister of International Affairs


Everyday while working with the EMBRACE project, I am honoured to witness the hard work and commitment of people who are transforming their households and communities. In line with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) and the Every Women Every Child Global Strategy, EMBRACE foregrounds gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (Sustainable Development Goal 5) as foundational to meeting all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In Rwanda, EMBRACE is contributing to health and wellness for all by creating conditions for the most vulnerable mothers and children to survive and achieve their full potential.

All over the world women and girls experience power inequalities that infringe on their human and sexual rights, contributing to: heightened exposure to gender-based violence; poor access to healthcare and sexual health resources (including contraception and family planning); limited education and employment opportunities; unequal access to and control over economic resources; and exclusion from household and societal decision-making. Consequently, women and girls in fragile contexts are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, social exclusion, illness, and death.

Here at EMBRACE we believe every mother, child, and family deserves and has the capacity to achieve optimal health, nutrition, and economic stability if given the right supports. We also know it takes more than education and knowledge to make a lasting impact. Women and communities must be empowered with access to resources, tools, and decision-making.

At the heart of the EMBRACE project’s comprehensive set of health and nutrition interventions is a gender-transformative approach developed and delivered with the local community. The EMBRACE approach engages all of society, including men and boys, civil society, sector partners, and local governments to transform inequitable power relations and practices. At all levels of the EMBRACE project, community members living in remote mountain villages are engaged and supported as leaders and shared owners of programs. This approach recognizes the complex determinants of health and nutrition, tackling root causes through culture change and access to resources.

Here are just some of the ways EMBRACE puts a gender transformative approach into practice:

  • The First 1000 Days is the most important window to invest in children and families to ensure lifelong health and wellness in households and communities. EMBRACE starts with interventions in this critical window to support healthy development across the entire life course.
  • EMBRACE Rwanda staff have used a train-the-trainer model to train more than 8000 locally elected community members on gender transformative facilitation and core content areas to build capacity and facilitate widespread transformation across Nyabihu district.
  • Women and girls are enabled as agents of change in household and community decision-making through participation and leadership roles in Mother-Child Health Groups and Youth-led Community Health Clubs.
  • Awareness and protection of human and sexual health rights of women and adolescents are embedded through advocacy and education at national and local levels, including:
    • Collaboration with government and development networks
    • Radio and community awareness campaigns
    • School curriculum
    • Community-led capacity-building on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Gender-based Violence (GBV) prevention
  • Strengthening access to health resources by investing in health centre infrastructure and provider capacity while equipping families with resources to support their own health, including:
    • Enhanced economic security through Savings and Internal Lending Clubs with emphasis on Income Generating Activities
    • Food security and nutrition through knowledge and inputs to start household permaculture gardens
    • Clean water and sanitation through the provision of water tanks and latrines at the household level, and latrines and biomedical waste facilities at the Health Centre level

Despite facing greater vulnerability in Nyabihu and other fragile settings, women and girls are also key agents of social change with major roles to play in building peaceful, healthy, and sustainable communities. Each day I visit villages through the EMBRACE project, I am profoundly inspired by the strength and resilience I see in Rwandan women and men as they work to build, and are so quick to invite me into, healthy homes and communities. I am so grateful to be included in this beautiful community-led movement toward full health and livelihood opportunities for people of all genders to thrive.


About Vanessa
Vanessa Parlette has a PhD in Urban Geography from the University of Toronto and a Master’s and Honours in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser and York University, respectively. She has been working in community development, poverty reduction, and public health for 15 years and is passionate about mobilizing collective impact to achieve social justice and empowered communities. She is currently on leave from her position as a Health Strategy Specialist with a Canadian municipality to expand her expertise and contribute to sustainable development on a global scale.

EMBRACE is a four-year project designed to improve the maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) of vulnerable women, girls and boys in Cambodia, Myanmar the Philippines and Rwanda through improving access to essential health services, building the capacity of local health workers, and providing community education programs. Funded in part by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada (GAC), EMBRACE is a project led by ADRA Canada and implemented in partnership Youth Challenge International (YCI) and the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre (HDC).


For nearly 30 years, creating solutions for sustainable development, especially sustainable livelihoods and equality, has been deeply rooted in all of YCI’s work.

Learn more about the EMBRACE project, other YCI solutions and how you can get involved >


EMBRACE is generously funded in part by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.