While visiting Gihaya Island, located in Rusizi District, I participated in a canoeing expedition organized by members of a local cooperative known as Noza Ubukorikori.
All members of this cooperative are women. An encounter with women working hard to lift themselves out of poverty wasn’t new to me. Around the country, members of similar cooperatives are actively engaged in different economic activities.
The atrocities of 1994 led to gender ratio imbalances. The Genocide against the Tutsi and the ensuing exodus created a depleted nation in which women formed about 70% of the population.
Consequently, many women across the country found themselves shouldering the responsibility of providing for their families. Thrust into an unfamiliar territory, many rural women didn’t fare well in the competitive job market due to limited formal education or lack thereof.
Fortunately, the post-liberation enabling environment is helping women to break the long-standing barrier formed by generations of marginalization. The empowerment of women is a game changer.
While on the island, I experienced the day-to-day lives of my hosts. They wake up at dawn and paddle their dugout canoes to different fishing spots. Then they buy fresh fish from fishermen and proceed to the market.
Delivering fish to the market is not the only thing these proactive women do. They are also traditional dancers. Entertaining tourists is a way of expanding their business portfolio and diversifying their sources of income. In addition, they weave and handcraft a wide range of artifacts for sale.
Canoeing is healthy and environmentally friendly. Indulging in one of my favorite water sporting activities with a team of mothers was out of the ordinary.