The 38-year-old Rwandan woman now owns a stall in Kigali’s Rwezamenyo market.
Asked about the challenges she faces as a businesswoman, she says they range from cultural to societal norms, which constrain women participation in the formal economic sector.
“There is also a lack of understanding and cooperation from men in comparison with female entrepreneurs. Most men are yet to appreciate that times have changed, they try to block a woman’s success in business endeavor,” said Irakoze.
She is not alone. Many Rwandan women bore the brunt of male chauvinism — a woman’s place was in the kitchen for decades.
Women were not expected to speak out or act as full functional members of society.
Over time, the pro-feminist movement, however, has caught up with Africa.
In Rwanda, after emerging from a gender imbalance resulting from the 1994 genocide, the government formulated innovative policies and laws to facilitate equal participation of females in society.
Under the country’s constitution, women are mandated a 30 percent representation at all levels of government.
After making significant achievements in governance, Rwandan women are now turning to economic empowerment.
Irakoze says it’s critical to empower women to play more roles in the formal economic sector and workforce.
Out of a total number of 493,302 workers in establishments countrywide, only 36.3 percent are females, according to a 2014 national census.
UN Women representative in Rwanda, Clara Anyangwe, says it is vital to ensure that women are economically empowered in order to free them from the cycle of poverty, which results into gender-based violence, low esteem and economic dependency.
Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda and chairperson of New Faces New Voices Rwanda Chapter, says there is need to build the capacity of women entrepreneurs in terms of skills and knowledge needed for them to thrive in business.
“With the availability of financial inclusion policies in Rwanda, we need to empower women with business competencies and required skills for comprehensive empowerment,” she said. Enditem