They have grown businesses from scratch. They have dismantled the “men’s world” myth. Some have done things men cannot. Their talents make them forces to be reckoned with when they step on the starting line. They are not bothered by speaking their voices to oblivion because social impact activism is their life. KT Press has gone across Rwanda to look for them to tell their story. As Rwanda celebrates International Women’s Day 2018 this March 8, here are the women that are making Rwanda go round – or so, ‘the world go round’.
DISCLAIMER: There are tens of thousands of women in Rwanda that are helping shape its destiny. They have had tremendous impact in all spheres. Others have mind-blowing accomplishments. We are fully aware the two dozen names highlighted here are only a drop in a very large ocean. We ask you to nominate any Rwandan woman you feel we left out, and they could feature in the next publication.
For more than 20 years, the face of theatre in Rwanda can be summed up into two words: Hope Azeda. She is the founder of Mashirika Theatre Company that has provided a platform for Rwandan artists, actors, musicians and dancers gathered together under theatre. One of Mashirika’s biggest projects is the annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival that brings groups from all across the globe to shape the world view on the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. Azeda and he team at Mashirika approach the pain of genocide with such artistry and love. Another of Azeda’s theatrical projects was “Africa’s Hope”, which the Huffington Post described as “not just a story of healing, it is healing”. Mashirika is, true to their founder’s name, a company of hope in a country that has experienced despair for too long.
Some 22 years ago, Theopiste Nyiramahoro requested a Rwf1, 500 loan (approx. $1.4 today and $4 back then) from Mothers Union to set up a small business selling grilled peanuts. Today, at 57, you cannot speak about coffee production in Rwanda, which is one of the country’s biggest exports without mentioning her name. Unlike the days when even the guards at banks would suspect her if she tried to enter any branch, today banks are falling over each other to give the loans to the mother of three. She still lives in Kirehe district despite her status. Her hand is helping to feed thousands of families.
Apostle Mignonne Alice Kabera
The local press is full of scandals about churches. The pastors are either fighting over property, ownership or involved in sex scandals. At the Women Foundation Ministries founded by Apostle Mignonne Alice Kabera, however, harmony reigns. The spread of the word of God has remained the practice in her church. To have a feel of the power she wields in this country, visit her magnificent church in Kimihurura surburb of Kigali on any day of the week – especially evenings, and you will come thank us.
Despite her supposed age, said to be in the 80s, Daphrose Nyirabahutu has earned the name “umukecuru wa perezida” (President’s granny). These names developed from her elaborate musical presentations mixed with poetry that she has sang at various national events with her cultural troupe of only grannies. From their based in rural Nyaruguru district, the grannies have become a national icon since they came on the scene in 2013. At the time, they were only known in Southern Province. When President Kagame visited then, they were invited to do a musical for the guests, and that marked a turning point for them. They have a skill of combining national development programs and how they have benefited along with the community, and present it all in form of poems and music. It is hard to describe the genre of their music. You need to search for videos to feel the power in their music.
Daphrose Nyirabahutu is the brain behind this group, and for that we feel she is worthy the recognition in this list because her efforts have changed not just her but a community. She will continue to be an inspiration to many.
The 29year-old Clarisse Iribagiza became a regional face after emerging winner from an entrepreneurial reality TV series some years ago. It marked the beginning of a journey from greatness to greatness. The latest addition to her CV is being member of the African Development Bank Group’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group (PYAG). She shares same platform with dollar millionaire investor Ashish Thakkar, the CEO Mara Group.
Iribagiza is herself the founder and CEO of Hehe Labs.
She was nominated in Forbes’ 30 under 30years for 2015, also among 20 the movers and shakers of African continent. She also appeared among 100 global thinkers by Lo Spazio della Politica, an Italian think tank.
Emma Claudine Ntirenganya
A 38 year old journalist lady, Emma Claudine Ntirenganya is the chairperson of Ikirezi Group that organises Salax Awards, which recognise Rwandan singers and music producers based on their annual performance. She is also the pioneer initiator of sexual reproductive health talk shows on local radio. When her initiative started on the University of Rwanda journalism school’s Radio Salus, whose audience is the tens of thousands of students; it was largely considered taboo to speak about sex on radio. Now, nearly every station has the segment.
At 18 years, Nancy Kankindi has earned two black belts in martial arts. Stories about her have inspired young girls and boys to join karate training centers like never before. Incidentally, Kankindi is the daughter of Sinzi Tharcisse, himself a top notch martial artist. Using his fighting skill, Sinzi saved some 118 people in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis.
Inanga’s Sophia Nzayisenga
Not many women play the iconic traditional Rwandan music instrument “Inanga”, and no Rwandan does it better than her. But Sophia Nzayisenga, 37, has pushed the boundaries even farther! New York saxophonist Jeremy Danneman knows Sophia better. The founder of Parade of One Inc, an international musical outreach organization, has partnered with Nzayisenga – on the ‘Honey Wine’ musical project. YouTube lovers should have seen that trending video in the New York subway.
Nzayisenga’s collaborations have taken her to many countries and festivals.