Competitive sport has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated arena but women are breaking the stigma, with many having become top athletes as well as referees at international level. Several Rwandan women have blazed the trail for female officials, consequently breaking through the barriers of the previously male dominated field. Here, in no particular order, we take a look at some of the top female referees who are inspiring the young generation and especially shaping Rwanda’s sports sector. Joy Happiness Mukeshimana (Sitting volleyball) The 32-year-old who received a professional disability sports certificate in Germany has been a sitting volleyball referee for a decade. ALSO READ: Mukeshimana to officiate at 2023 Women’s World Super 6 In 2015, she got a chance through the National Paralympics Committee (NPC) to participate in an international course as the only woman. And, after registering a great performance, she was offered a scholarship to study in Germany to learn more about disability sports. Mukeshimana has been named among referees who will officiate at the 2023 Women’s World Super 6 Pajulahti, in Finland, from May 30 to June 4. ALSO READ: It takes many iterations for a woman to succeed in sports – sitting volleyball referee Mukeshimana In September 2019, she was one of the referees who officiated the men’s Para Volley Africa Sitting Volleyball Championship held in Rwanda. Mukeshimana holds a bachelor's degree in biomedical laboratory sciences. Olive Mukandanga (Basketball) Mukandanga made history in 2016 when she became Rwanda’s first female umpire in the national basketball league. ALSO READ: Meet Mukandanga, Rwanda’s only female basketball umpire The 29-year-old who was involved in basketball and athletics since high school is now one of the few females in the arbitration area on the international level. She officially became an international referee in 2021 and has participated in five international tournaments. Previously, she played in the University of Rwanda team in 2013 before joining The Hoops Rwanda, from 2014 to 2015. Mukandanga started playing basketball back in high school, at Kayonza Modern Secondary School, where she studied Physics, Chemistry and Biography as she nurtured a dream to be a sports doctor. But things didn’t go as planned as she, later on, obtained a degree in physical education and sports. Salima Rhadia Mukansanga (Soccer) Mukansanga, 33, was among the three referees that made history as they officiated at the men's football World Cup in Qatar. Mukansanga has been officiating for FIFA since 2012. Mukansanga first made international headlines when she became the first female central-referee at the African Cup of Nations in January 2022, and did not disappoint as she successfully handled the Guinea-Zimbabwe match. ALSO READ: Mukansanga to officiate 2023 FIFA Women World Cup Born and raised in Rusizi District, Western Province, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and Midwifery, from the University of Gitwe. In 2007 she started her journey of being a referee and after almost a whole year of hard work and extensive learning, Mukansanga started to be assigned some matches in the men’s second-division league and the women’s top tier in late 2008. Four years later, she was upgraded to a CAF referee and officiated in several matches, at club level and internationals, on the continent, in the role of an assistant referee until 2014 when she took charge of her first international game as a centre referee. ALSO READ: Rwanda's Mukansanga makes her World Cup debut Mukansanga’s first international tournament was the women’s football competition at the 2015 All-Africa Games. That year, she also participated in CECAFA Women’s Challenge Cup. In 2016, she was among 47 referees that handled the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. In 2019 she was selected by FIFA to oversee the Women’s World Cup. Christella Girizina Rugabira (Chess) In July 2022, the International Chess Federation (FIDE), invited Christella Girizina Rugabira, 34, Rwanda’s only licensed female FIDE Arbiter (FA), to officiate as an Official Arbiter at the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad which was held in Chennai, India. PHOTOS: #Rwanda’s Christella Girizina Rugabira, a licensed FIDE Arbiter (FA), is on duty at the 44th FIDE Chess Olympiad which started on July 29 in Chennai, India. @FIDE_chess invited her as an Official Arbiter at the biennial chess tournament.#ChessOlympiad pic.twitter.com/rRCFwVDlzK — The New Times (Rwanda) (@NewTimesRwanda) July 29, 2022 In August 2016, Rugabira passed tests to make her the country’s first female arbiter recognized by FIDE. She had participated at the FIDE arbiters’ seminar organized by the Uganda Chess Federation and the Africa Chess Confederation in Kampala, Uganda. ALSO READ: Rugabira becomes Rwanda's first FIDE arbiter Initially, the mother of two started as a chess player. But when her teaching workload increased and she could not get enough time for training, she decided to study and become a chess arbiter. She has officiated at different local chess tournaments as well as in two different Olympiads starting with the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, where her country’s team registered its best ever performance at the biennial chess tournament in which teams representing nations of the world compete. ALSO READ: Rwanda leaves Chess Olympiad 2018 two titles rich, optimistic over future Solange Ingabire (Karate) Twenty-nine-year-old Ingabire still loves to compete in fighting competitions but she is the country’s most qualified Karate judge. She holds Judge A in Kata and Judge B in Kumite certificates. As a player, Ingabire joined the national team in 2012. She has won various medals while representing the country in regional and bigger stage international tournaments. Ingabire won a bronze medal at the African Junior Karate Championship held in Tunisia, in 2013. She also grabbed another bronze during the 15th Senior African Karate Championship in Senegal in 2014. In Senegal, she was the only female representing Rwanda. ALSO READ: Ingabire grabs bronze at continental Karate tourney The soft spoken mother of two was also part of the team that represented Rwanda at the 2014 World Karate Championships in Spain and the 2015 edition in Germany. Thanks to her Kumite prowess, she later obtained a scholarship at Kampala International University in Uganda where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in procurement and management. Ingabire’s refereeing career started in 2019.