Veronique Hob-Hob, 2011 Gaudino Fellow

Gaudino Fellow Veronique Hob-Hob

Kigali, Rwanda
I- Synopsis
My project aimed at studying the consequences of Rwandese women’s empowerment through the case studies of women’s soaring employment opportunities in the beading and weaving industries. I wanted to explore the social, economic and cultural impacts subsequent to this trend, focusing on the challenges that such changes had
brought not only for women but also in their relationship with men and their community. I hoped to answer questions such as: What was the relationship between taking up handicraft jobs and taking up leadership roles? Did such employment opportunities contributed in fuelling tension between genders in this patriarchal society? What were the changes on men’s views about women’ traditional roles? Once on the ground, my findings led me to discover that women’s employment in Rwanda had been made a top priority at the wake of the genocide of 1994. The Rwandan constitution of 2003 laid the ground for an unprecedented wave of a men-supported women’s empowerment movement across all private and public domains of the Rwandan society. My research led
me to find that in general men agree on the fact that Rwandan women are better leaders than men. It seemed to be of a general consensus that women were better equipped to handle the country’s affairs. By the end of my research I had found that employment didn’t only serve as an effective way to empower women, but it was part of a bigger agenda that aimed at enabling women to be the backbone of Rwanda.

A particular uncomfortable experience I came across was my first meeting with the co-founder of Gahaya Link, Joy Ndunguste. Within the first minutes of our conversation, she bluntly announced me that I couldn’t use her company anymore as a study case for my research. Among the reasons she gave, the main one related to an
unsustainable influx of visitors and researchers in the company’s locals following the excess media coverage that Gahaya Link had generated. Pass my shock and disappointment, I got curious to know more about the reasons of her discontentment at the media and at the waves of researchers who were showing an interest in Gahaya Link.
She resented the media coverage that Gahaya link was having for two reasons: not only it was detrimental to her business but it was also misrepresenting the company as the sole reference of entrepreneurship in Rwanda, and that at the expense of other handicraft cooperatives.

She explained that most researchers coming to do work on Gahaya Link already had a preconceived idea of what they wanted to find and to write about. Mentioning their methodology, she said they would waste her time and workers’ by only addressing common questions that were already covered all over the news. “Nearly all the Muzungus are looking for already cooked success stories,” she said. “I would like to see more researchers start from scratch instead of just scrapping the surface of the subject they research on.” Subsequently to our meeting, she recommended that I try to do research on grassroots cooperatives whose impact in women’s life and communities were according to her more significant and tangible.

Our discussion was really eye opening for me because it gave me a totally different perspective on the role that researchers play in the understanding of matters they seek to address. Through my conversation with Joy, I learned how to be flexible so that although the change of my research’s methodology took me into a different path, my project still nonetheless had addressed the issues of women’s empowerment and gender dynamics. Finally, because of Joy I learned how researchers themselves could be more of a nuisance rather than a help to the matter they seek to address.