There are many stereotypes about women. Among these is that they are only best suited for reproduction, raising children and taking care of their husbands’ every whim.
Well, after so many years of campaigning against this mentality, people, even women themselves, are beginning to have a different view. Women are playing leading roles in so many spheres be they economic, political, scientific, name them.
Without looking farther, Rwanda is a leading example that women are crucial in any nation’s development. Women played and are still playing a great role in the country’s recovery, reconstruction and development.
For starters, Rwanda’s Parliament has a higher percentage of women than men. It’s not just a matter of statistics but a sign of faith in the fact that they can deliver.
In Rwanda, you will find women busy involved in road construction. You will find women in business. You will find women who are not scared of blood, the ones we are going to feature on today. Women butchers.
In the days of yore, a women being a butcher was unheard of. It was one of those professions reserved for men…since women are the ‘weaker sex’.
“There is no work a man can do that a woman cannot do,” says Jamira Akimanimpaye who works in a Kimironko butchery. She says that women have not only taken up important positions in companies and government institutions but have also become construction workers, taxi drivers and like herself, butchers.
Indeed, when strolling among the butcheries in Nyabugogo and Kimironko, you get the impression that women have taken over the entire place.
And don’t be surprised when suddenly one of them grasps your hands, pulls you into her shop and with lots of sweet talk convinces you to buy kilos of meat which you had never planned for. These ladies mean business.
You find some women wielding knives at their meat stalls while others cajole customers to theirs.
Janet Batamuriza is one of them. This single mother of four kids had been working in an Indian’s shop, but found the working environment not at all to her liking.
“Then one day my sister suggested that I try the butchery business, which I did in 1995.
For sure, it was one of the best decisions of my life because the business has done me good-I have managed to look after my kids and my life has completely changed,” Batamuriza says.
She explains that she buys 100 kilograms of meat per day to be sold at her butchery in Nyabugogo, earning her a profit of Rwf10, 000 the same day.
“I enjoy the work in my butchery and it has given me money which I am using to look after my family; I have even started planning to build my own house,” Batamuriza says.
It is the same story nearby, where former housemaid Shillen Uwimana is happily wielding giant knives and cleaving bones; in fact, she admits it was a childhood dream.
“I was a housemaid, but it felt like prison-it is the worst experience I have ever had,” Uwimana recalls.
“But I persevered because I had my plan. I was saving my money, and after five years I quit and realized my dream of getting into the meat business.
I had thought about it from the time I was little. We had a neighbour who was a butcher and I dreamed of doing similar stuff.”
Today, she says, she is able to save Rwf300,000 a month, and is planning to expand her business.
According to Batamuliza, in the past, women were not allowed to do such jobs, but after the genocide women began to involve themselves in all types of work.
“In the past, there was a lot of ignorance and primitivism, with cultural traditions restricting women, but now there is real gender equality,” she explains.
The female butchers come from all walks of life. Oda Mukakarengera, for instance, was once a government employee.
In 2005, she decided to quit the job in order to be self-employed and ventured into the butchery business.
“It’s all in the mind; if you are determined and competent, there is no work a man can do that a woman cannot,” Mukakarengera says.
Mukakarengera admits that sometimes, indeed, she has to rely on men. “We buy the cows alive and keep them until when they are to be slaughtered. But sometimes they escape, and then the only choice is to hire men to get them back.
Unfortunately, sometimes they too fail, and we make a big loss,” she remarks. “They say that women care more about the family, but I do not know if that is true,” adds Chantal Mukandayisenga, another woman in the meat business.
“I think it has more to do with the self-control women show in hard times. We know how to survive when men despair.”
Mukandayisenga added that in a situation where it needs more strength, she hires men to do the job especially in chopping the meat.
These butcheries have given a better life to some widows like Francios Mukasengamana who has been in the butchery business for over 11 years. The mother of four was supported by her relatives to start the business.
She started with Rwf550,000 to join the Covenya cooperative in Nyabugogo. She is now able to pay school fees for all her children.
“One of my children has finished secondary level education and another is about to finish vocational training school.”
Musengamana now owns a house and she’s leading a happy life.
Jamira Akimanimpaye doing butchery business in Kimironko said that she was inspired by her colleagues who were getting rich in the business.
She decided to quit selling matooke in the market and joined butchery business. She says one year down the road, her life has been transformed.
“I take care of my two kids and now support my relatives, which was next to impossible before.”
There are 33 women butchers compared to 15 men butchers in Nyabugogo butcheries and 21 to 20 women and men butchers respectively in Kimironko market.
Innocent Habimana, one of the male butchers competing with women in Nyabugogo butcheries, said that it’s no longer news to see women in such business. That as men, they are now used to them.
Habimana says that women have a more convincing tongue than men and as a result, most of the customers go to them.
“You see, most customers trust the female butchers more, so you find us being left out not earning as much as they do.”
According to Bernard Ngerageze, the president of Covinya cooperative in Nyabugogo, most of the women joined the butchery business after the genocide.
Ngerageze thinks that most of the women were also inspired by government’s encouragement to women in Rwanda.
“When women at the grassroots see government itself empowering women by appointing them in positions of high authority, they also get inspired and get morale to perform in every activity,” Ngerageze says.
According to Ngerageze, the future for women in the butchery business is bright. He says, for example, the cooperative plans to establish a well structured project which will cost over Rwf486,930,445 million.
It will construct a two-storied building and buy new modern machines for chopping meat.
The cooperative has 12 widows among the many members and its president says that to register as a member, one pays Rwf600, 000 in order to get shares in the cooperative.
He adds that he is still registering more women than men in his cooperative, however, he admits that there are some unregistered butcheries that intervene in the smooth development of the cooperative.
“These butcheries are always in cells, and so the customers end up there instead of coming to us,” Ngerageze said.
Wherever the customers might end, the women butchers might be the ones serving them. Rwandan women are once again proving to be the stars that they are. A more is probably yet to be seen.