Kankwanzi: How One Woman’s Tenacity has Empowered Others

Anne-Marie Nyiranshimiyimana
Anne Marie Nyiranshimiyimana works on the Butaro Campus construction site. Photo by Zacharias Abubeker for UGHE.

When Anne Marie Nyiranshimiyimana first began working as a mason, she was met with staunch criticism.

“They told me, ‘No woman builds, no woman climbs.’ They told me, ‘Women can’t do a lot of things,’ ” Anne Marie explains.

Despite this resistance, Anne Marie persevered and is now one of 200 female employees building UGHE’s Butaro Campus. Since beginning her training in masonry through the construction of the Butaro District Hospital, Anne Marie has acquired a passion for the skill, rising to the rank of master mason and inspiring her peers along the way.

Using her knowledge to mentor and encourage others, Anne Marie quickly became a role model to women and girls in her community. Her nickname, “Kankwanzi,” which loosely translates to “rising star that refuses to conform to society’s expectations,” is reflected by her success in encouraging females to go into masonry, a traditionally male-dominated industry. Despite a huge stigma in Rwanda around women who are employed as construction workers, Anne Marie continues to advocate for their increased involvement.

“[Women] bring great value to construction sites. They are better implementers and more equipped to budget time and resources,” explains Anne Marie. “Hiring [women] supports the whole family.”

Prior to developing her masonry skills, Anne Marie struggled to provide for her family. Having only been educated through primary school, she found it difficult to find a job. Equipped with a new skill set and income, her position has enabled her to purchase health insurance and send her children to school.

Beyond having a ripple effect on her family and community at large, Anne Marie’s vocation has also given her a sense of identity and confidence.

“Women look up to [me] so much when they hear about me. They want to come work with Kankwanzi,” Anne Marie says with a beaming face.