Veneranda Niyitegeka, an uneducated woman in her 50's and a resident of Huye, was living an impoverished life for many years, making a living by tilling other people's gardens and her own garden.
All her life, she had only received coins and some small denomination notes like Rwf 1,000. It was once in a while that she would access a Rwf 2,000 bank note.
"I used to plead with my husband to give me a Rwf 5,000 bank note but he probably did not have one either," she recalled.
In 2007, she joined COAIRWA, a cooperative for rice growers based in Huye, Southern Province and started growing rice as well.
She would later start saving some money from rice growing. "I was always a broke woman who hardly had Rwf5,000. There were always basic needs arising and it was hard to save even the little money I would keep in the house. Now, I have bank accounts with Kenya Commercial Bank and a local SACCO. I can easily save, access loans and other financial services through the bank just like my fellow women I work with," she told Saturday Times.
Niyitegeka is one of the many Rwandan women keeping and saving money in banks and also utilising bank services, such as loans which have transformed their lives.
According to the Fin scope Survey Report, a segment of the 2013 National Gender Statistics Report, 50.9 per cent Rwandan women aged 18 and above are banking their money in banks.
The report also indicates that 66.7 per cent of women have savings accounts, while 49 per cent women have current accounts.
The same report reveals that 45.6 per cent of women are accessing credit through informal means and a bigger percentage is using banking services through savings.
John Mugarura, the Manager of Bank of Kigali (BK), Kacyiru branch,said indeed many women are utilising bank services and opening up accounts in various banks countrywide. He attributed this to the fact that banks provide different financial services to financially empower woman.
"We encourage women to bring their business plans and when we find them good, we provide them with loans to inject into their businesses in order to generate income. Many women are making use of these services and we are happy to know that they are not just keeping money in banks but also saving," he said.
Mugarura also said that collateral is no longer a challenge for women, especially if they want to access loans because all they have to do is get into groups, get a good business plan and recommendation of their sector leaders and they get a loan. Doreen Mabethi, the Branding and Communications Manager at Ecobank, said that many Rwandan women are active in business even on small scale basis.
She said that more women now have side businesses such as art and craft which is bringing in much revenue so women have something to keep in the bank.
"Many Rwandan women have developed the entrepreneurial spirit and many are venturing into different businesses and not relying entirely on salary but small businesses as well such as selling jewellery and opening up restaurants so they have something to keep in the bank," she noted.
By the end of 2012, loans granted to women by banks increased by 43.9 per cent to Rwf59.3b up from Rwf41.2b.
The annual comparison indicated that 77.6 per cent (Rwf205.3b) and 22.4 per cent (Rwf59.3b) of loans issued by banks were disbursed to men and women, respectively, last year compared to the 78 per cent and 22 per cent recorded in 2011.
The number of accounts opened last year increased by 29 per cent compared to 2011 in the microfinance sector, 40 per cent of which belonged to women. The number of outstanding loans increased by 120.5 per cent compared to the 2011 level, with 33.5 per cent of the loans granted to women.