Female street vendors’ (dis)engagement with politics in Rwanda – Orientalising women’s political participation
Women’s political participation was initiated as an instrument for gender equality yet now is under research scrutiny. Due to gender quotas and other institutionalization of women’s political inclusion, Rwanda has the highest number of women in its parliament – 67%. But is women’s political participation a real tool for gender equality, or is it one that through the artificial guise of women’s political representation sets up an exclusive political space? Apart from women who work in political institutions, who else are participating in politics and how and where are they engaging with politics? Feminists should claim back this discussion, reject neoliberal approach to ‘empower’ women and propose a more distributive and collective agenda. As part of my PhD project regarding women’s (dis)engagement with politics in Rwanda, female vendors drew my attention during my fieldwork in Rwanda. In Rwanda, female vendors are among the groups who are the ‘furthest’ to participate and influence the political decision-making process, yet are heavily influenced by various political policies on a daily base. For example, the by-law forbidding street vendors was initiated in 2015 and further enforced in 2017 was designed to punish street vendors because they build “unfair competition for customers with legitimate businesses paying rent and taxes” . Consequently, many female vendors face a great deal of violence by local forces. Using feminist ethnography as the methodology, I choose visual methods to tell the stories of female vendors. That is, the photography project is designed to elicit stories of ‘what happened when’, and to encourage participants to ‘remember’ past events, and past dynamics on the street, as well as to express their own opinions and ideas. My task is to reconstruct the process of female street vendor’s engagement with politics and in doing so deconstruct the fake formal image of female political participation in Rwanda.