Why women in arts are struggling to claim their place

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Female models on the run way. Parents have a big role to play in allowing their children pick a career of their own choice. (Net photo)

IT was a thorny start for musician Yvonne Mujyemana aka Queen Cha when she set out to pursue a music career in 2012. Her family could not imagine their daughter joining a profession that every one despised. They believed it would mark the end of her education since “she would drop out of school”.

But Queen Cha defied all these stereo types and followed her passion.  Today the 26-year-old is a house hold name in the music industry and a graduate.

“It was not easy because not everyone understands that as a girl you are trying to make it just like anybody else. On hearing that I had begun a music career and recording songs, many people just pictured me getting naked, taking drugs and changing my personality…this is what is associated with female musicians. My father’s worry was that I was not going to be able to complete school,” Queen Cha recalls the tough start to her journey in the arts industry.

Although females like Queen Cha have defied the odds to make it in arts, many don’t make it or are completely shut out by the hostile society perceptions  associated with women who engage in music and other arts related careers like modeling.

But why should females try hard to justify joining such careers while their male counterparts are applauded by society when they do the same.

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Queen Cha

For Queen Cha, it was until completing studies that her father hesitantly got convinced that she would indeed make it in the industry and “gave me a go ahead,” she says.

The singer says that it is because of these stereotypes that many talented girls out there shy away from the field for fear of being misunderstood and judged in public.

And the problem cuts across most of the careers in the arts as shared by Jemima Kakizi, a creative composer whose work involves painting, clothing design and visual art.

When she started painting eight years ago, there were very few women in the field. Although this has since changed, the space for women in art is still small. She also blames this on gender stereo types, which give men an edge over women in the arts field.

“Like in many fields, society still holds predetermined perceptions about women.   As a result some women are not ready to go against such norms and be judged,” Kakizi explains.

Like Queen Cha, Kakizi followed her passion to bring about change in society through painting. 

She makes realism and semi-abstract portraits to address issues of domestic violence, child abuse and women’s rights, among others.

“My hard work and self-confidence enabled me to break through the male dominated field. I’m grateful for the good leadership this country is blessed with because as women, we can now hold our heads high,” she says.

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Hope Azeda

Hope Azeda the Director and founder of Mashirika Theatre Company, that organizes the annual Ubumuntu Arts festival has been in the arts industry for 16 years.

She also describes her journey as that of entirely proving herself to be able to make it through the industry.

“People tend to associate our work to that of men, as women we therefore have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves in society so we can stand out and prove that we can do a professional job so that people can get to trust us,” she says.

For the aspiring females in arts, her advice is that it takes hard work, determination and passion to keep relevant in the industry.

Lucy Hope Ruhinda has worked as a model in Kigali for four years. She says modeling is one area where more women are making it compared to the men but society despises the trade.

“Modelling is mainly embraced by girls as seen on the runways where female models outnumber the male ones. The public and advertising agencies also tend to prefer girls to men, which means that girls get the most of opportunities,” she says.

However, despite the opportunities in this field, she says modeling is still not appreciated as a decent career and models are generally looked at as objects for pleasure and satisfaction. 

Ella Lillian Mutuyimana, a film director in Kigali calls for more efforts from the female colleagues in the industry to claim their rightful place. She notes with great concern the limited number of women in the industry, as men tend to be the main acts.

“It is just a matter of recognition. When a woman makes a movie it has to be perfect or else she won’t get any recognition but when a man makes a movie it is different. So women feel less comfortable or even scared to join the industry,” she says.

What needs to be done?

Mutuyimana says that in Rwanda there are plans by filmmakers to encourage more women and bring them on board so that they can work with men.

“We need the gender balance in the industry because we believe that women have several active roles to play. By breaking the boundaries and changing the public stereotypes that some positions are only meant for men, women can be encouraged to exploit their talents,” she says.

In the modeling industry, Franco Kabano the president of Rwanda Fashion Models Union says that Rwanda Art council through the Rwanda Academy of Languages and Culture is currently in the process of setting standards for Rwandans in terms of pay to give value to Rwandan models and sensitise them that modeling is not just a hobby, but a profession.

Kakizi on the other hand believes that it all begins in the homes where parents have a big role to play in allowing their children pick a career of their own choice.

“Charity begins at home, and therefore if a child loves to draw, develop their talent, invest in it, take her to an art school if you can afford it, support her as much as you can, and don’t force them to pursue something just because you think it is more respectable in public.

Kakizi notes that a person is most likely to do best what they love and also, parents should know that art is a career and you can be an artist the same way you can be a doctor.

Azeda believes that it should all start with changing the silent beliefs that the public has about women.

According to her, there is no point in educating women yet the public still has negative beliefs and mistrust in them.

“As women, we still have a long way to go because in as much as the government and society are trying to empower women and educate them, the stereotypes that women only belong to their homes still remain. Many men out there want to come off as supporters of women empowerment but are silently living in doubt. If the mindset of the people does not change, there is no way the situation is going to change because women do not acquire a degree just to take care of the home,” she says.

Why are in women in the arts less appreciated?

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Arnold  Kwizera

There’s no doubt that women have become more and more sexualised in music videos and photo shoots as decades go by. I believe that no matter how empowered a woman may feel, the apparent need for female artists to take their clothes off for publicity creates a wrong impression about them.

Arnold  Kwizera, businessman

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Philip Karuhanga

The arts industry itself is still lagging behind compared to other sectors and, therefore, empowering women cannot come easy. Women just have to be part of the fight and ensure that the industry comes out strong. By them being at the forefront, they will be recognised and easily earn the respect they deserve.

Philip Karuhanga, music producer

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Clarisse Mbabazi

There has been a big focus in the country for girls to embrace science fields and ICT and therefore the attention has been drifted away from what girls can do in the arts. I think that society has to look at all aspects so that there is equality in all sectors.

Clarisse Mbabazi, student

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Hellen Nankunda

The stereotype that women cannot do certain jobs is what leaves women behind. Talented women are discouraged from joining some professions in the name of dignity as conceptualised by society. Women should come off as fearless and fight these stereotypes.

Hellen Nankunda, web designer