In March, the world celebrated International Women’s Day with this year’s theme “Each for Equal.” Across the globe, events were organized to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality and women’s empowerment.
While Rwanda Art Museum planned to join the global celebrations with an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by women artists living and working in Rwanda, Covid-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the opening of the exhibition that was fully set with more than 76 artworks by 36 women artists.
Two months later in May, the Rwanda Art Museum organized an online exhibition opening in conjunction with the International Day of Museums, also promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.
For the “Messages of Rwandan Women Artists: Each for Equal” exhibition, Rwanda Art Museum exhibited pieces from its permanent collection adding to it paintings, sculptures, photographs, digital drawings and prints, woven pieces and other works that are selected through the public call for submissions.
In addition to Rwandan artists working in the country, there are art works from Rwandan artists living and working in Kenya, Uganda and United States of America.
Furthermore, works by foreign nationals from Belgium, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Serbia and the United States of America were exhibited, as they lived and worked in Rwanda at some point of their art careers.
Most of the artworks call for re-thinking and provoke discussion on how our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society, creating a gender equal world.
Women in Rwanda play multiple essential roles, from those at home to breaking into industries that were once dominated by men, from politics to agriculture.
A majority of artists represented at the exhibition graduated from the Nyundo School of Art, among them women from the first generation of graduates: Floride Mukabageni with her three paintings “Celebration”, “Equality” and “Forgiveness”, and Vestine Mukakalisa with her painting “Isoko”.
Mukakalisa’s career started well, with her works being represented at several group exhibitions, yet it did not last for long, sadly she died young. Mukakalisa’s “Isoko”, watercolor on paper, with few lines shows movement, hardship, hopes and struggles of women working at the market.
Other artists at the exhibition, for example Chancelle Digata M, Ineza Ines Barbara, Christiane Rwagatare and Crista Uwase, also portrayed hard working and resilient women.
The exhibition can be seen for the next two months up until August 2020, adhering and respecting all measures that the Government of Rwanda set for cultural institutions and gatherings in respect to COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Ministry of Infrastructure, Global Green Growth Institute and Rwanda Women’s Network conducted a rapid assessment on the needs of women working at markets in Musanze.
The rapid assessment report outlines areas of intervention that would improve economic development and livelihoods especially for female vendors at markets. Indeed, childcare facilities, improved water and sanitation facilities, and other issues, were highlighted as the areas where intervention is needed for better and safer working conditions for women.
The report also recommends investing in the physical and social infrastructure at markets for the benefit of urban and rural communities, facilitating their circular exchange of goods, services and finances.
In Rwanda, the installment of hand washing facilities and social distancing has been a core preventive measure to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Such temporary facilities were also installed at markets.
During the pandemic, women working at markets were affected by limited transportation and movement options that negatively affected their livelihoods. The reduced number of customers during this period further impacted incomes and livelihoods. In the process of recovering from the effects of the pandemic, many urban markets in Rwanda could be considered for upgrading.
The post Covid-19 recovery process presents the opportunity to address development backlog while enhancing societal resilience –by investing in markets that empower communities to rebuild the economy.
The Government of Rwanda, development partners and other stakeholders are delivering a series of projects and programmes to further strengthen and empower women, especially those most severely affected by the pandemic.
Rwanda’s Art Museum with its current exhibition reminds us to keep working on providing equal and fair conditions for women working at markets and also in all other sectors.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.Follow IlijaGubic