Muslim women showcase achievements, aim higher
‘Ten years ago, all I did was sit in the kitchen and wait for my husband to fend for our home,” says Aziza Bazubagera. “I could not even buy clothes for myself and my kids. My husband was the sole bread winner, and that was it”.
Bazubagera is among scores of Muslim women who are showcasing the achievements they have made over the past 17 years.
“Look at how I am dressed; I am able to get myself the basics. It’s a totally different situation,” she told The New Times proudly.
Bazubagera is the head of Mama Ahmedi Cooperative, based in Biryogo, Nyamirambo, a Kigali City suburb –. It is one of the cooperatives taking part in the exhibition at the Islamic Cultural Centre.
“We are no longer relegated to the kitchen. We are now earning steady incomes, and are able to support our families unlike in the past when our job was only to cook for our husbands,” explained a delighted Bazubagera.
She and about 20 other Muslim women formed their cooperative in 2005. They make African wear, and today, have at least Rwf 7 million on their bank account.
The exhibition was organised in line with the upcoming International Women’s Day that falls on March 8. It includes commercial activities, handicrafts, textiles and farming.
Safi Nyiramajyambere, of Cooperative Sub’ra, which brings together women who live with HIV/Aids, says she is able to pay school fees for her children and take good care of her health and her family.
“We are 60 and started our cooperative in 2004. We deal in décor and catering services. We have seen our lives transform progressively, and we have even bigger plans ahead,” she told The New Times. But she wants the government to give the cooperative tax subsidies so they can develop themselves even faster.
Safina Umugwaneza, another exhibitor from Abahuje ukwemera cooperative, said: “Our husbands are mainly truck drivers or dealers in automobile spare parts. Their incomes were not enough to sustain our families, so we thought it wise to have income generating projects of our own”.
Umugwaneza and 130 others formed their cooperative which provides catering and decoration services for weddings and other functions around Kigali.
“Beyond supporting our families and developing ourselves, we also support the needy, orphans and the sick, especially in hospitals like our religion requires us to,” Umugwaneza said.
The Mufti of Rwanda, Sheikh Abdul Karim Gahutu, together with MP Saïdat Mukanoheli, led other guests through the exhibition stalls, during which the exhibitors explained where they started and where they are today.
In his message, the Mufti told Muslim women that even in the Koran, women are cited as important members of the society, though historically women have been left behind.
He added, however, that the Moslem community in Rwanda and the government have plans to uplift Muslim women countrywide. He said the Islamic community has planned countrywide sensitisation programmes targeting women.
While acknowledging their progress, the mufti challenged the women not to be complacent.
“Do not be contented...always aim higher,” Sheikh Gahutu urged them.
He called on the women to back initiatives aimed at supporting relief for Somalia, observing that it is an Islamic culture to support those in need.
Hon. Mukanoheli, who represented the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, told them that the government remains committed to programmes aimed at empowering women and the girl child.
She highlighted the focus of the forthcoming women’s day celebrations, noting that the day and the whole month of March, dedicated to women and girls, serves as an opportunity for women to recommit themselves to the welfare of the family.
“The government has several programmes in place aimed at supporting women and cooperatives, including putting in place easy means of accessing credit. This will help more women engage in economic activities,” Mukanoheli said.
While the progress is commendable, women raised concerns regarding access to credit facilities and high taxes.
Hassina Nyirarukundo, of Cooperative Dusanabandi, which grows beans, maize and Soya for commercial purposes, said: “Sometime it becomes difficult to find markets for our produce. We want the government to help us find good markets and good prices”.
“Nonetheless we are committed to working even harder to keep moving forward,” she added.
Prominent among the concerns were mainly taxes, bureaucratic procedures, as well as bank demands to access credit. Some of the cooperatives have fallen prey to conmen as they attempt to expand.
In the words of Mukanoheli, the Rwandan Muslim woman has come from far – from almost nothing to running the country’s economy.
“Look around, they run small and big businesses – from just being housewives 17 years ago.” Mukanoheli said.
A recent survey indicated that up to one million Rwandans have moved beyond the poverty line over the past five years, thanks mainly to the Government’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Programme (EDPRS) I.
Contact email: edmund.kagire[at]newtimes.co.rw