Everyone who lives in and around Ntarama Sector, Bugesera District is aware that every Wednesday is market day. By 10 am, the place is already buzzing with traders from various sectors of the district who are there to sell their merchandise – mostly agricultural produce. Under the scorching sun, they lay their goods down on small canvasses and start receiving customers. Pumpkins, oranges, mangoes, pineapples and all kinds of vegetables and fruits are on display. The produce is harvested from different villages of Bugesera a semi-arid region, and transported on bicycles to the market. Unique to this region, a fairly good number of the people who ferry the produce on bicycles to the market, are women. Although it is quite known that women can ride bicycles, one will rarely catch such a glimpse in other parts Rwanda. This explains the popularity around Bugesera women and their bicycles. While it is almost taboo for a woman to ride a bicycle in other parts of the country, in Bugesera, you are not considered ‘woman enough’ if you can’t. A good number of these women don’t ride as a hobby but an activity that makes them money to support their families. Angelique Nyiranshuti, 21, uses her bicycle to transport mainly tomatoes and assorted fruits to sell at the market. This is her main source of livelihood. In the days that lead up to Wednesday, she rides her bicycle through different villages collecting fruits which she then takes to the market and sells at a profit. Nyiranshuti doesn’t remember exactly when she learned to ride a bicycle, but by the age of 10, she was riding the family bicycle for fun. Shortly after, she started to use it to run family errands like fetching water. “Every place has its unique culture. Here in Bugesera, women really love bicycles. A child learns to ride at around eight to 10 years. It is helpful for us, not only in business but also in our daily lives,” Nyiranshuti says. 19-year-old Emerine Niyigena, who is also a resident of Bugesera says she can carry different types of stuff on a bicycle, although she is not working in the transport sector at the moment. “I want to tell fellow women and girls that they should not fear to use such transport. You can use a bicycle to move to different places by yourself,” Niyigena says. Why the bicycle culture in Bugesera? Gerald Nyirimanzi, a seasoned historian, lecturer and Chair of Researchers in Culture and History, a local association of history and culture activists, tells The New Times that the bicycle was introduced in Rwanda during the colonial times — most probably under the reign of King Yuhi V Musinga, who ruled from 1896 until his exile in 1931. Many chiefs and sub-chiefs acquired it as the most affordable means of transport to reach their subordinates and transmit orders from their colonial administrators. For Bugesera, however, the culture was quickly adopted because of the area’s flat terrain. “The bicycle became popular among women and girls in the Eastern Province because of its geographical location and landscape configuration (a flat area compared to hilly areas elsewhere),” Nyirimanzi says. He adds that it was used in activities such as fetching water from far away sources and transporting their harvest until it became a measure of local civilisation and a sign of wealth. Bugesera is traditionally one of the driest parts of the country. Indeed, a family in rural areas of Bugesera that doesn’t own a bicycle may be regarded poor. It is also a precious wedding gift that parents give to their daughters on their wedding day. Not doing so may cause family wrangles between the newlyweds. “Local girls there now boast of riding a bicycle more efficiently than others; it is among the assets they found their homes with. Riding a bicycle is now part of the Eastern Rwandan culture and many cycling champions, including champion Moise Mugisha, were born and raised in this area,” Nyirimanzi adds. Bugesera District now boasts a strong women’s cycling team as well, after Israel – Premier Tech adopted and started supporting it two years ago. The UCI ProSeries cycling team also launched Rwanda’s first ever pump track in Bugesera, to benefit the local community and the Bugesera Women’s cycling team. Bridging gender gaps in transport sector The bicycle riding culture in the area has inspired women to beat their fear of trying even bigger modes of transport. Laurence Uwizeyimana, a 21-year-old taxi-moto operator, is a good example of this, as she started out as a bicycle rider. “I used to ride a bicycle at home when I was younger. When I grew older, I learnt how to ride a motorbike. In 2019, I got my permit and started transporting paying passengers,” she says. Uwizeyimana started her business by using a motorbike that belonged to an investor, but after a couple of months, she managed to buy her own. Bugesera women are not the only ones bridging gender gaps in the transport sector. Even in other parts of the country, positive strides are being made. Jeanne Murekatete, a cab driver, wakes up before 6 am every weekday to transport passengers in Kigali. Her work as a commercial driver for ‘Move’ by Volkswagen requires her to be on the road very early in the morning, have her VW Polo washed and fuelled before she starts driving clients around. On a good day, by 7 or 8 am, Murekatete who started this job in 2019, is already on her way to pick her first passenger. “It is a job that requires determination. Some people think it is hard to drive manual cars, for example,” she says. Murekatete learnt to drive manual cars in 2014. She had a passion for automobiles and felt she would be a commercial driver at some point. The problem, however, was that she did not have the capital to begin. “Later on, an opportunity came my way when Volkswagen came to Rwanda. They invited people who wanted to drive taxis, and I went for it. That is how I got into this work,” she narrates. She tells The New Times that her clientele responded positively, because they trust that she will drive responsibly without over-speeding or even under the influence of alcohol. Although her work is going fairly well, she notes that some of her colleagues who would wish to drive for notable organisations don’t find it easy to get jobs because employers think they could get pregnant and miss work, or that they will miss work when their children fall sick, a mentality she hopes changes soon.