In 2007, Rwanda’s parliament had the highest female representation in the world at 48.75 percent. But that equal representation wasn’t trickling down to women in Nyamirambo, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the capital city of Kigali. In response to the gender-based violence, discrimination, and gender inequality they were facing, 18 women came together to create the Nyamirambo Women Center (NWC), a community space with a mission of combating these prolific issues. Today, Rwanda retains its place at the top of global female parliamentary representation at 61.25 percent, and the NWC has evolved into a self-sustaining vocational and educational community center that supports more than 50 families.
Women in Rwanda are known as umutima wa murugo, “the heart of the home,” and were essential to rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the Rwandan Civil War. After the horrific 1994 genocide, during which between 800,000 and more than one million people were slaughtered, women were estimated to make up around 70 percent of the population.
The NWC follows that tradition of women-led solutions, evolving from a care center into a small business cooperative with the Umutima (heart) project, founded in 2013. The initiative supports vocational training in craft making and tailoring for women in the community. Clothing, home decor, and accessories are handmade out of kitenge fabric, banana leaves, sisal plant fiber, palm leaves, and more. In 2014, NWC founded a community library with books in Kinyarwanda, English, and French to encourage children’s literacy. The center also holds classes in English, reading, computer literacy, sewing, and weaving for adults. Umutima members can access workshops on mental health, women’s rights, and nutrition.
For tourists, the NWC offers guided walking tours of Nyamirambo led by members of the Umutima cooperative. For $15 (plus an extra $3 for lunch), participants learn about the neighborhood, visit two mosques, tour a hair salon, and learn to pound cassava. Guests can also elect to take lessons in cooking or basket weaving, each for the same price. All profits go right back to running NWC and paying the wages of Umutima cooperative members.
Know Before You Go
Bring a light rain jacket if you’re visiting Rwanda in the rainy season, which is heavy between late March and May, and light between September and December. Nyamirambo is hilly, and some streets are cobblestone, so be sure to wear sneakers or walking shoes.
Tours are offered year-round, but be sure to check on public holidays and during genocide commemoration (April 7 and the week following).
If you want to book a tour or class, reach out to NWC via WhatsApp at +250 782 111 860, or via email at email@example.com. The NWC center itself sells cooperative-made souvenirs, so bring some extra cash beyond what you’ll use for a tour/class.