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Rwanda’s female motorcycle riders defy odds

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Women in African nation of Rwanda join commercial motorcycle driving to ferry passengers.

Women in the landlocked African country of Rwanda have broken another glass ceiling by becoming commercial motorcycle riders.

Wearing a face mask with male passengers sitting on the back seat, 21-year old Marie Louise Karegeya is seen zooming past the bystanders on the capital Kigali streets.

While there had been few female taxi drivers, commercial motorcycle driving was completely a male business.

Dressed in black trousers, a blue jacket, and brown shoes, Karegeya is among four young women, who have entered the race to challenge the male bastion. The city has some 20,000 licensed commercial motorcycle drivers, who are authorized to ferry passengers like taxis.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Karegeya said that the government encouraged women to enter into the transport business and generate income.

“We have been encouraged by our government which puts rights of women at the core and inspired by courageous Rwandan women, who have served in high government positions,” she said.

A second sibling in a family of five, Karegeya entered the male-dominated business in 2018, after dropping out from school despite her mother’s reservations.

Positioning herself at the roadside near the Kigali International Airport, she starts her day at 6 a.m. local time and continues to ferry passengers for another 12 hours. She can be seen picking up students who are in a rush to reach their schools and workers who want to circumvent traffic jams and reach their offices.

On average a motorcycle driver makes about 18,000 Rwandan francs ($18.37) a day. Since she does not own the vehicle, she has to pay a part of the earnings to the owner as rent.

The head of the taxi motorcycle cooperative in Kigali’s Gasabo district, Paul Tabaro said he was happy to see Karegeya’s choice to join their trade as it reflects the empowerment of Rwandan women.

“I value this job a lot because it helps to meet all my demands as a young woman instead of begging. It also helps me to contribute to my family welfare,” Karegeya said.

Defying challenges

With the money earned so far, she has helped the family to buy livestock. Her target is now to earn and save enough money to buy her motorcycle.

Due to their ability to navigate traffic jams and penetrate narrow alleys to reach remote areas, motorcycles have become a favorite public transport in urban Eastern African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.

Joining the male-dominated business was not so easy, recalls Karegeya. She said some male drivers used to toss offensive remarks and she was even nicknamed “female man”. But, she hastily added that many others encouraged her.

Elsewhere in the city, Claudine Nyirangirente is another female driver who has defied the odds. The 33-year old mother of three children joined the commercial motorcycle driving eight years ago.

Recalling her journey, she said initially besides facing insults from fellow drivers, the passengers also used to be hesitant to ride on her bike, thinking she was less skilled.

Before starting her career as a driver, she had tried many professions right from working as a house helper to casual laborer at a construction site to selling eggs.

These jobs helped her to save money to buy her small motorcycle worth 600,000 Rwandan francs ($600). She has now recently switched to a bigger motorcycle.

She said her husband had been supportive, which enabled her to strike a balance between home and work.

She uses the income generated from her business to pay school expenses for her children, pay rent, as well as meet other family needs such as food, clothing, and medical care.

A passenger Jean Pierre Munyemana said he prefers pillion riding with female drivers, as they are careful and avoid rash driving compared to their male colleagues.

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