Flora Kaitesi started her career in the media as a freelance writer. She then ventured into broadcasting, starting out as a radio presenter before joining television as a news anchor on Rwanda Broadcasting Agency. In May last year, she was appointed Chief News Editor at the same company, a position that was formerly dominated by men. For her, gender stereotypes did not daunt her determination to climb to greater heights.
“Climbing up a ladder is never an easy feat, more so in the media industry. It is said that when it comes to women, you have to work twice as hard as men to prove yourself. This means that you have to work hard, be consistent and resilient but in double measure,” Kaitesi says.
Her journey to heading one of the biggest newsrooms in the country was not easy.
“I headed the biggest newsroom in Rwanda because of my abilities. I remember having a conversation with other powerful women in the media across Africa and they were amazed by the fact that I was entrusted with such responsibilities as a woman in a sector that was male dominated in their countries,” she says.
She adds, “There were instances where people made me feel like there were some things I couldn’t do because I was a woman and more so young, but I am glad today because looking back, the learning curve is simply amazing. In fact this is how I dealt with most of these issues; taking every challenge and every setback as a learning opportunity.”
According to Kaitesi, the main problem women have is that they do not believe in themselves and they seek acceptance and approval in all the wrong places because they are afraid of competing against male counterparts.
“The truth is that you can do way much more than you can imagine. We are seeing more women taking up top career positions, but I believe we can have more, many more,” Kaitesi says.
Vestine Uwamahoro is the Procurement Officer at Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC) Karongi. Her journey was full of ups and downs but that didn’t discourage her. In fact, according to her, the challenges only acted as a stepping stone. She started out as an auditor and in a few years, made it to her current position
“At the start it was not easy for me as I was a fresh graduate with little experience, but this didn’t stop me from going for interviews. For many years, I tried applying for jobs without success, but I never gave up and chose to keep a positive attitude. I got my job on merit and here I am today, striving and thriving.”
Uwamahoro says that knowing what she wanted to do and being determined to attain it helped her achieve what she has attained in her line of business.
Uwamahoro says that she understands women face many challenges when it comes to their careers but they shouldn’t give up.
“Women face many challenges but they should always carry an air of confidence. I did many interviews without hope of succeeding but at the end I got what I aimed for,” she says.
Uwamahoro adds that while women have come far in the workplace, they still have a long way to go.
Why the imbalance in high career positions?
Gender activist, Olive Uwamariya, observes that though the number of women occupying higher positions in companies and institutions is steadily increasing around the world, the numbers are still disproportionately low.
“There are many barriers that women face but for me, the fundamental one that stands out, especially in Rwanda is that women still face more challenges in balancing work and other responsibilities compared to men,” she points out.
Uwamariya says that working women are also expected by society to leave the office and go tend to their families.
“It is not as ‘tolerable’ for a woman to get home late, especially after her partner, as she is expected to be home early and make sure that food has been prepared and the children are fed and put to bed,” she adds.
Uwamariya says that the higher one goes up the ladder, particularly in a competitive and corporate environment, the more hours they have to work and the less time they may spend with the family.
“Because of this pressure working women refuse to take on a more demanding promotion or a job that is far from home, out of town or outside the country,” Uwamariya points out.
The gender activist also suggests that career education should start from an early age and girls need to be mentored on how to become future leaders and trust in their abilities to lead, especially by more accomplished women.
Bosco Murangira, the Director of Women Empowerment, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, says that though the numbers of women are still low in high career positions, the trend is promising if one compares it to the past.
He says that looking at post-genocide Rwanda; the number is going up because of the policy and legal instruments that the government of Rwanda keeps on revising to make them gender sensitive.
Programmes have been put in place to mentor young girls as a way of paving a clear path for them towards leadership. One of the key programmes is ‘Mentorship for young women and girls in leadership, career guidance and entrepreneurship.
Murangira says that women who have managed to make it to the top have demonstrated outstanding results and achievements.
“What is being done and will continue to be done is to create a favourable, free and fair environment where both women and men can tap into the existing opportunities. But of course, having in mind that some specific factors may limit girls’ and women’s effective and full participation,” he says.
Do women have a hand in it?
Annet Uwimbabazi, a business woman, says that the women are meek by nature and this sometimes works against them, especially in cutthroat fields of employment. This is why men dominate such high positions.
“Men are aggressive when it comes to getting what they want, which isn’t the case for women, most of whom are soft and comfortable that way,” she says.
Uwimbabazi advises that if women want to become the big fish in the professional world, they should be confident and daring in what they do.
Rogers Ndemezo, a sales manager, applauds the few women who have made it to the top, saying that with the way things are going; women will one day beat their male counterparts in various fields.
But for Scovia Mutaganzwa, women still have a long way to go because of the responsibilities attached to them.
“Being the perfect wife, mother and career woman all at the same time can really be hard. It’s not easy acquiring a high rank in your career while trying to juggle other responsibilities equally well,” she says.