Skip to main content

Rwanda is recognised globally for its efforts to empower women. According to the 2022 Global Gender Gap report, the country has one of the highest rates of women’s representation in parliament, with over 60% of seats held by women, and the country ranking sixth globally in closing the gender gap by a rate of 81.1%. 

Rwanda’s gender equality achievements, however, go beyond political representation. 

In collaboration with various entities, the government has implemented policies and programmes that promote women’s economic empowerment, such as initiatives to increase access to financial services, vocational training, and entrepreneurship support. Examples include the Rwanda Career Women’s Centre and TVET scholarship programmes run by the FAWE Rwanda chapter, the Rugori Fund initiative run by the Rugori Investment Network, and SheTrades Hub run by the International Trade Centre (ITC). 

Despite the significant strides made in Rwanda towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, women’s access to finance remains a barrier to their full participation in economic activities and financial success.

In this piece, we will explore women’s access to financial services; the barriers they face when it comes to accessing finance, and make a case for women’s financial inclusion.

Barriers to Financial Access

Women in Rwanda have shown an impressive dedication to business development and entrepreneurial growth, as seen by the increase of women led MSMEs throughout the country over the past decade. A recent FinScope thematic study on MSMEs in Rwanda showed that of a total of 803,380 MSMEs in the country in 2020, 52% were owned by women.  

Nevertheless, in Rwanda, as well as across the world, women continue to face barriers when seeking financial assistance to grow businesses and achieve financial success. These barriers include limited access to formal banking services, limited financial literacy, difficulties in formalising their businesses, and gender bias when dealing with the banking sector. 

Women-owned businesses in Rwanda, in particular, often seek financing for working capital and business expansion. However, they are frequently hampered by high loan interest rates, commission fees, lengthy loan application processes and premature loan repayment demands from banks, affecting their financial growth.

Furthermore, banks frequently lack an understanding of the complexities of women-owned businesses, resulting in stringent collateral requirements even though there is still a gap in women’s access to and control of inheritance and property. This, in turn, makes it difficult for some women to secure assets as collateral, particularly assets shared with their spouses.

As a result, women often opt for business-related funding from Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs), friends, family, and other informal sources that are considered to be more flexible and easier to access than formal financial institutions. Such sources, however, do not typically provide adequate funding for their businesses as the amount loaned is usually insufficient in fully covering their needs,  charged at expensive interest rates, and is not documented in a legally binding contract that protects the parties involved.

In addition to the aforementioned financial barriers,  women entrepreneurs also face non-financial barriers that affect their financial access. These include inadequate financial skills, limited information about available financial opportunities, limited access to business networks, the gender digital divide – nationally, more men (16.6%) access the internet than women (11.2%), and the complexities of having many business shareholders who tend to influence business decision-making processes.

A Case for Women’s Financial Inclusion 

To address these challenges, financial inclusion is the overarching goal and is a vital step towards economic empowerment and gender equality. Financial inclusion entails ensuring that the individuals and businesses, regardless of gender, have access to affordable and suitable financial services. 

To address the specific needs of women entrepreneurs, some institutions have introduced the concept of “women’s banking”. In this context, “women’s banking” refers to financial products and services that are specifically designed to cater to women’s unique financial needs and challenges,  as business owners, savers, and investors.

While Rwanda has made significant progress in this regard, there are still challenges to overcome. We recommend an evidence-based approach that would facilitate the creation of tailored support that is both effective and impactful, addresses the aforementioned challenges, and unlocks the full potential of women-owned businesses in Rwanda. 


Written by Hope Umuziga

Edited by Yvonne Mwiza