The business that changed the lives of 100 women

From the hill dominating Magasins Generaux du Rwanda (Magerwa) in a neighborhood commonly known as Sodoma, 95 women, who used to trade from street and former sex workers who in 2007 decided to leave the ‘demeaning’ jobs, say they are writing a success story.

From the hill dominating Magasins Generaux du Rwanda (Magerwa) in a neighborhood commonly known as Sodoma, 95 women, who used to trade from street and former sex workers who in 2007 decided to leave the ‘demeaning’ jobs, say they are writing a success story.

Members of Rwiyemezamirimo Dufatanye cooperative do different business in a modern market. Some sell charcoal, others sell fruits, food stuff and cosmetics.

Besides this, they recently received support from First Lady Jeannette Kagame, who built them a magnificent green house where they are growing tomatoes.

All these opportunities, which they are not taking for granted, helped them forget their dark past and look forward to a bright future.

Cécile Mujawayezu, the president of Rwiyemezamirimo cooperative, said she used to sell fruits on street for five years until 2007 when she realised that she was doing a job that makes her scornful.

“The business was such that security men could at any time take what you are trading and throw them away. Now that we are here, my business can earn me up to Rwf100,000 per month and there is no one hunting me since I am doing legal trade”.

Change of status


Charcoal trade, she said, there is no way someone can overlook them since they are now respectful women who pay school fees for their children and buy food for their families.

She pays Rwf22,000 every semester for her two children in primary school. 

In the cooperative, members pool resources monthly, by contributing Rwf300 per week per person, which at the end of the month would total at least Rwf100,000.

The money is given to a member, who can invest it in her own needs.

“I got this money twice. For the first time, I bought a TV screen and furniture, but I am now saving until I get a shelter,” says Eugenie Mukashyaka.

Disclosing that she was a sex worker, Mukashyaka said men used to beat her or to use her body for their pleasure.

“But I was very happy to be part of this cooperative where I got a husband and we are leading a nice life together. Security is the best thing this cooperative provided me,” she said with a laugh that confirms it all. 

The cooperative, she said, “taught me discipline, saved me from drugs and alcohol on top of this business of vegetable oil where I still earn only Rwf 30,000 per month. Hopefully, it will increase with time.”

 “Before joining this cooperative, our business that used to oblige us to go door to door was tricky; some men could call you pretending to buy fruits and when you arrive in their house, they could force you to sleep with them,” said Shadia Murekatete, 26, a former street vendor and mother of three, who now says she is stable and respected mother.

Different support

In March 2005, the City of Kigali graduated 300 women from small scale entrepreneurship where some individuals and cooperatives got some money to boost their business.

Rwiyemezamirimo was one of the three cooperatives that was awarded Rwf1 million.

The president of the cooperative said they plan to buy a water tank with this money, so that they can sustain irrigation of their tomatoes in their green house, a donation from the First Lady, Jeannette Kagame.

Previously, Kicukiro district, Family health International and other sponsors had helped them in building the market and providing whatever support that would help the women forget an odd past.

“A well-wisher is giving us a vehicle soon and we shall be able to carry to transport our tomatoes to the market,” said Rwiyemezamirimo.

“Most of you are still young women, if you want to lead a successful business, make sure you safeguard your life as well, because the life of a woman is of a great value,” advised Fidele Ndayisaba, the City of Kigali mayor, while closing a two-month-long training of women entrepreneurs over financial literacy.

The mayor called upon the women to embrace various opportunities the government is proposing to the vulnerable women and youth, such as the “Women and Youth Access to Finance”, mechanism that helps women to get funds to operate business as way to fight poverty. 

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