Women are under-represented in all areas of formal employment. However, there are signs of change. Consolata Rusagara, vice governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, explains: “girls are beginning to catch up with the past.”
Increasingly, throughout the country, girls now occupy as many seats in schools as boys. And there is now an equal number of each sex applying for university education.
“As a result women’s attitudes about work are changing,” said Rusagara in an interview at the bank.
President Paul Kagame, winner of the African Gender Award 2007, has chosen gender equality as one of the country’s eight Millennium Development Goals.
Angelina Muganza, the minister of state for labour, in a telephone interview said that last year the ministry in association with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNIFEM had developed a plan of action for promoting women in business. The initiative is to be developed this year.
In 2006, the Private Sector Federation, the country’s economic driver, set up the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs. Believing women to be the economic power of the country, the chamber aims to improve the business climate for women and promote self employment.
In this climate of female empowerment, Rwandan women, known for their ability to take charge and their ease in a working environment, are taking the business world by storm.
Cécile Rusangamihigo, director of Imprimerie Select Graph, described how women were once expected to stand behind their husbands.
In an interview at her office Rusangamihigo, who is in partnership with her husband, said women can now work as individuals, acting on their own initiative.
Women of course face huge challenges. In an interview Thérèse Bibonobono, director of the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, explained that the biggest hurdle for aspiring female business women is a lack of skills and formal training.
“Many women do not feel they are in a position to make decisions about the risks involved in setting up businesses,” Bibonobono said.
Balancing a full time job and a family that needs looking after is no easy feat. However, as Rusagara explained, Rwandans on the whole are blessed with extended families that provide crucial support networks. And while sacrifices have to made, it is possible to be both mother and career women.
With plenty of role models now appearing, girls seem to have everything going for them: sensitised men, support from government, and no social impediments, indeed, in Rusagara words, “there are no excuses”.
Bibonobono, commenting on the success of many businesswomen, enthused: “this is just the beginning.”