The Rwandan chapter of New Faces New Voices, a Pan-African organization that advocates for women’s greater access to financing, last week announced the establishment of Rugori Fund, an all-women investment fund that seeks to expand women’s role in the financial sector.
The equity-contribution based fund seeks to empower and stimulate Rwandan women’s participation in the country’s financial sector. The uniqueness about it is that it will offer women specific products.
Rwandan women have come of age. They now own land, inherit property, and occupy leadership positions right up to the upper echelons of society, including in parliament where they are the dominant gender at least numerically.
All this in barely a generation. These are not mean feats by any standard.
Nonetheless, Rwandan women remain disadvantaged in many ways. Access to funding is one of the major challenges they still face. Statistics indicate that less than 20 per cent of business entities in the country are owned by women.
Women trail men in terms of access to opportunities aimed at fighting poverty and promoting entrepreneurship. For instance, they constitute only 29 per cent of the beneficiaries of the Business Development Fund’s support in terms of numbers but this figure drops further to 21 per cent when analysed in terms of volume.
The playing field is not leveled just yet. For instance, while Rwanda boasts enviable pro-women policies and every public institution is required to engender its budget, banks are gender neutral. All they care about is whether you have a bankable proposal. Even as more women are increasingly owning property – mostly jointly with men – often times it is not them that make the decisions. Men do.
Women constitute more than 52 per cent of the Rwandan population. Some eighty per cent of them are rural women. They are as dependent on subsistence farming as they are on men. And the fact that banks continue to ignore agriculture only aggravates the situation. Figures indicate that poverty levels are higher among women than men – by close to 10 per cent.
Whichever way you look at it women are marginalized in one way or another. They need tailor-made support to help them break the cycle of poverty.
That’s why such initiatives as Rugori Fund are significant. The initiators of the Fund should make sure that, ultimately, it cascades down to the village woman. The Fund brings a new perspective because this is a women-only vehicle. It’s a women’s brainchild. It will serve them on more favourable terms.
Women like to approach matters of financing as a group. According to a 2013 study, 46 per cent of cooperative members in the country were women. Many women are members of village loans and savings associations, locally known as Ibimina. Rugori Fund should leverage these platforms not only to get their message across but to also bring on board as many women as possible.