For generations, gender roles in Rwanda have been clearly divided between workplace and home. Women were never thought of as capable of owning, running, or working in businesses, while men were never expected to help in the home. More recently, this generation of Rwandese are changing such roles and working beyond where they are expected to. Following the horrific genocide in 1994, Rwanda was 60 to 70 percent female as many men had passed, been arrested, or had fled the country. This made the country dependent on women in the workplace, just as World War II did for America. Since this shift in gender roles, Rwanda has worked hard to advance women’s equality in education, appointed leadership, and government. President Paul Kagame has vowed to not merely play catch-up to the West but leapfrog ahead of it. Currently Rwanda is ranked the 5th best place in the world for women. A much higher place than France’s 17th and the US’s 45th in the report (GGGR16).
Now in 2017, many Rwandan women are working in ways their mothers would have never dreamed. Many married couples like the Jean Claude & Feresiya are sharing roles within the workplace and home. After joining a local church savings group in 2012, Jean Claude and Feresiya were trained in business strategy and money management. As a team, with Jean Claude doing the physical labor and Feresiya managing the money, they built their first shop selling beans, rice, and other local necessities. Now three years later, their teamwork has brought 4 additional businesses. The income from their multiple businesses has given the family the opportunity to get out of their day to day poverty, and begin to think about their financial future.
Unlike old Rwandese traditions, Feresiya is just as a part of her businesses as her husband. She maintains the small shop next to their home and manages the rental of a few wedding dresses, which she bought with a loan from her savings group. Locals who are getting married now come to Feresiya to get fitted and rent their wedding dress. Jean Claude has installed solar panels in their home, which is something that is rare in the rural village. Being one of few homes that have electricity, people pay by the hour to charge their phones. Also within their home, Jean Claude runs the local barber shop from their front porch. After purchasing a second pair of hair clippers from another savings group loan, they now employee one additional barber. Lastly, the couple maintains a large garden behind their home. Jean Claude takes care of the hard physical labor, while Feresiya maintains the produce, and manages the sales of the fruit and vegetables.
Feresiya, like many other women, is thriving as she has been given an opportunity to make in impact outside of her home. Feresiya is passionate about helping other women do the same. She states that: “Women need to know their worth. I am trying to teach my neighbors and people at my church how women, married or not, when treated as equals, can help support their community and families. Women love working, improving themselves and taking responsibility of their families just as much as men. I think husbands and wives can work together to create a better future.”