Nelly Bassily | July 4, 2011
A woman paddling a canoe no longer arouses curiosity in eastern Rwanda. While still not a common sight, you can readily spot women wearing orange life jackets and sitting alongside men, paddling canoes and fishing on Lake Rwakibare. This small revolution is well accepted by men.
The women fishers are happy to practice a profession that was at one time reserved for men. One woman says, “We start at 7 a.m. and leave around noon. Afterwards, we take care of other activities such as farming and housework.”
Lake Rwakibare is a small body of water in Kayonza district in eastern Rwanda, near the Tanzanian border. Most people who live near the lake come from other places, including former Rwandan refugees from Tanzania or Uganda. Rwandans from the north of the country come looking for land. Upon arrival, some begin to farm and raise livestock. Others choose to fish in their new home. And this includes the women.
Fortunée Nyiransabimana is a fisher. She says, “Before, we could not imagine that a woman could fish. But in 2005, we dared to try it.” She says they did not intend to compete with their husbands, but to contribute to the family. But not all women want to go out in canoes. One 50-year-old woman says, “At my age … I prefer to sell the fish.”
Claudine Mukeshimana, her life jacket on her back, proudly tells her story: “Before, my husband went fishing and I worked in the fields. I did not want to be a burden to him. I asked him to teach me his job. And here I am among the best.” She says that skilled women are as good as men: “Some catch more fish than men. They can earn 30,000 Rwandan francs (50 US dollars) per month, and they also work in their fields in the afternoon.”
Men do not object. Ildefonso Mugemana remarks, “If women are traders and entrepreneurs, why can’t they be fishers?”
Everyone who fishes in the lake or sells fish is registered with and belongs to a co-operative. The president of the co-operative says, “We currently have over 260 members, including more than fifty women.” All members agreed to let women join. The president says, “Why should women expect their husbands to provide everything? In addition, current government policy requires that women are involved in all sectors, and that includes fishing.”
Everyone who fishes pays an annual insurance fee of 12,000 Rwandan francs (20 US dollars) to cover accidents. The president of the co-operative says, “Three fishermen lost their lives in the water. Two of them have already received one million [Rwandan francs] in benefits.”
The women’s efforts are well-rewarded. Fortunée says, “Each time I sell fish, I save some money. I saved 350,000 Rwandan francs (about 585 US dollars). Thanks to this, I have bought some land.” With her next catch, she plans to buy a new motorbike.