KIGALI — In Kicukiro trading center located in Kigali’s suburb, streets roar with the sound of commerical motorcycles — commonly known as moto-taxi in Rwanda — traversing between car lanes.
Motorcycles, which many commuters rely on in the mountainous country, are driven mostly by men. Yet, in Kigali, a 33-year-old mother Claudine Nyirangirente from the capital’s rural palce joins hundreds of moto-taxis drivers to ferry passengers of all types, including pregnant women heading to hospitals, business people going to work, pupils going to school, as well as luggages including groceries and cement bags.She is one of the four known female moto-taxi drivers out of a total of about 20,000 in the capital city of Rwanda, according to Albert Byimanabirizana, president of Taxi Moto Cooperative of Kicukiro District, which Nyirangirente works in.
Not satisfied with the housemaid work she was doing in Kigali, Nyirangirente ditched the job in order to operate a small business. Finally, in 2013 she bought a small motorcycle worth 600,000 Rwandan francs (about 612 U.S. dollars) with savings from vending eggs to start moto-taxi business.”It took me like a week to learn riding the motorcycle. It was quite difficult but I gave it time,” she recalled.
In Byimanabirizana’s eyes, Claudine is a good driver and “can work to multiply family income.” Her customer, Joseph Shema, also commended her as a “careful rider” who makes him feel comfortable on the road. However, at the beginning, the young driver had to face prejudice against females.”Initially, some people felt it was not socially acceptable for women to ride motorcycle taxis and scramble for passengers at parking areas packed with men, but with time I got over it,” she said.”Some drivers would insult me off the highway and some male customers criticized me as weak and less-skilled but I overcame the criticism,” she added.
Nyirangirente takes pride in riding a motorbike, saying it had been the source of income for her family for years until her husband, also a moto-taxi driver, freed up his time to engage in other income-generating jobs. “I use some of the income generated from the motorcycle taxi to clear school fees in time so my children are able to go to school. We are able to pay rent and meet our other home needs such as food, clothing, medical care and other items,” said Nyirangirente, who recently bought a bigger motorcycle worth 1.5 million Rwandan francs, which her and his husband ride in turns.
With support of her husband, she manages to strike a balance between home chores and the work. Female taxi motorcyclists like Nyirangirente have been an inspiration for young women, for instance, 21-year-old Marie Louise Karegeya. Karegeya, who started driving taxi motorcycle in 2018, also met with opposition at first, including from her mother. The only person who backed her decision to join the business was her aunt.Now she still faces mixed reactions from her male counterparts. Some of them discourage her by saying it is men’s job and describe her as a “female-man,” while others encourage her and help her when she encounters mechanical problems on the way.
To Karegeya, riding motorcycle is significant. “I manage to meet all my demands as a young woman instead of being a dependent. I also manage to contribute to my family welfare,” she said. “Your limitation… It is only your imagination,” said Nyirangirente, who castigated the belief inherent in some young women who think there is nothing they are capable of.The woman driver now has a new target, buying a car to run taxi business.