There is no doubt that the new coronavirus pandemic has hit almost every economic sector, but those owned by women, which were already struggling before the crisis, were even hit harder.
Marie-Laetitia Kayitesire, a woman entrepreneur, for instance, said the outbreak hurt her coffee business, estimating that she lost up to $30,000 due to lack of export markets.
“Before Covid, I had quite a lot of plans. I wanted to build a capping laboratory, build a website, and expand my business. All those plans were halted,” the chief executive of Sake Farm in Ngoma District, noted.
According to the 2017 Establishment Census, women are largely under-represented in business in Rwanda with only 33 per cent of companies being women-owned.
Among those, an estimated 98 per cent of women led-businesses are small or micro-enterprises.
“A focus on women-owned enterprises is essential,” Soraya Hakuziyaremye, Rwanda’s Trade and Industry Minister said, highlighting that gender inequities are still visible in the business sector.
That, she added, can be seen on financial and digital inclusion metrics.
Studies show that, among others, female entrepreneurs have limited access to skilled labour compared to their male counterparts, which results in lower production at the SME level and under-utilized talent among individual employees.
A new initiative, SheTrades Rwanda, by the International Trade Centre (ITC) seeks to facilitate women to gain support to run competitive and sustainable businesses.
According to Pamela Coke-Hamilton, ITC’s Executive Director, the initiative will particularly provide tailored support to women entrepreneurs in Rwanda, especially in the coffee and horticulture sectors.
“Streamlined to meet the needs of women-owned businesses, our support will enable them to build back better from the Covid-19 crisis,” she noted in a virtual conference.
Coke-Hamilton highlighted that the measures include identifying strategies for hedging market risks and unlocking opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the crisis.
“The SheTrades Rwanda Hub, to be established next year, will serve as a catalyst for facilitating women in Rwanda to run sustainable businesses,” she said.
Among others, the initiative will support 100 women-owned businesses to build capacity, access finance, and adopt technologies, allowing them to build export competitiveness.
It is a two-year project.