By Athan Tashobya
Despite recent strides registered by Rwanda in ensuring gender equality in leadership, to extent that women (at 64 percent) have surpassed male counterparts in legislations, this positive trend has not been fully reflected in the “women in business”
The current statistic indicates that there are about 1700 women formally recognized as business people by the Private sector federation (PSF), while many others are doing informal businesses.
Despite these seemingly discouraging figures, Eugenie Mushimiyimana, the head of Rwanda Chamber of women entrepreneurs is rather optimistic that numbers are steadily increasing “compared to the recent past”, and says that continued growth of women in business will spur Rwanda’s economic growth.
Mushimiyimana spoke to The New Times on how PSF has been instrumental in seeing the numbers of women entrepreneurs grow and stay-put.
1. How is the situation of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda
We don’t have many women in business as it is in women in public service really. But certainly, there’s been a great improvement, judging from where we have come from. You are aware that a few years ago, women were mainly meant for home chores—taking care of children and running any other errands in the homestead. Only a few of them were doing informal business—but now we have about 1700 women in formal business in all sectors. This is indeed a positive trend.
About the exact number of women entrepreneurs, the last compilation made about three years ago, we had least 1700 women in a formal business registered. Of course, some of them have pulled out due to various reasons, while new female entrepreneurs have joined it. We are still putting numbers together, but one thing we are surely certain about is that these numbers have increased.
The government and Private Sector Federation have understood that once you empower a woman, financially, politically and in social terms, there are high chances that a country will be able to achieve stable development. Women empowerment, even in homesteads means improved quality of life and that’s why we are working hard to make sure that we have women who are financially competent to support their families and communities. In the long run, this will improve the quality of life in our nation.
In a nutshell, there’s been a general improvement in the understanding of why Rwanda needs business in entrepreneurship as much as we have them in leadership. This has led to the having more women in tourism and hospitality sector than men, increase in the number of women in the agriculture sector, and a very few in ICT and construction. In fact, we only have four women entrepreneurs in the construction sector; this is where we need to do more efforts to double these numbers.
2. How has the PSF enabled the increase of women entrepreneurs in Rwanda and their sustainability in the private sector?
Advocacy is one key component of what PSF does for the success of businesses in Rwanda. At the women chamber, we have worked so closely with all other chambers in constituting favorable tax regimes and policies that promote entrepreneurship in all sectors. We have been pushing of incentives and financing of women initiatives because women are good stewards of resources and can be trusted with finances.
3. What challenges do you think have hindered the success of women in business
Access to finance has been a challenge, not because financiers do not want to give money but rather the readiness of women to put that startup capital to good use.
Some women have been complaining that Business development fund (BDF) and banks do not give startups easily but the reality is that the people present very substandard business proposals, which makes it hard for banks to finance them. We have seen cases where people are not able to present their projects to financiers; there are several other cases.
What we are doing now is to train women, across the country, in their specific areas of interest such as Information and Computer technology (ICT), help them to know how to pay taxes and quote checks and balances. This training is transforming many women and encouraging.
We have been training women exporters to improve standards of their products, marketing skills, branding and packaging and all that. We have had trainers coming from Switzerland, Kenya and other countries. This makes our women entrepreneurs more competent even on the international standards.
4. Where do you see the future of women in business in Rwanda?
We have a significant number of women in business. But we need to bring them forth and act as an inspiration to other women. We are making a database of various female entrepreneurs and later try to increase their feasibility.
In the next two years, we want to focus on how best we can encourage women to come out and voice stories of their journey into business to encourage others through shining forth the light of the success of entrepreneurship. We want to have more women join the business and be part of the national development narrative.
We see mentorship as a key component of increasing the number of women in business. We have been doing this informal but we intend to bring senior women entrepreneurs together with young girls and young entrepreneurs and to see how best we can implement this program. Currently, we are working with Kigali Employment center and other centers across the country.
5. What is your focus of advocacy as PSF?
Our area of interest is access to finance and information sharing. These two are vital areas to the success of women in business.
Through offering entrepreneurship training and improving their business skills—this will build competence and entrepreneurship sustainability of women. This will consequently close the existing hindrances in access to finance.
Hopefully, we will see numbers of women in cross boarder trade, construction and all those sectors which are perceived as rather manly.