Inclusivity promises to unlock power of LGBTQ, disabled entrepreneurs
Local LGBTQ entrepreneurs struggle to keep their fashion brands, art stores and other businesses afloat even as they grapple with stigma and hate speech directed at them on and offline.
In the wake of concerns over rise in anti-homosexual sentiments and anti-gay legislations in the region, Rwanda has been hailed for its inclusive laws and criminilasing discrimination of any form.
Rights activists say this has enabled underrepresented groups like disabled people, sexual minorities and others to associate freely and enjoy most rights.
However, most decried hurdles when it comes to economic inclusion due to prevailing structural challenges with regard to creating and growing business or other sources of wealth.
They also point to limitations in access to funding and market opportunities that could pave the way for inclusive economic growth.
The issues came to the fore this week as entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups converged in Kigali at an exhibition organized as part of the drive to celebrate inclusion and diversity.
Over a dozens of businesses that are owned and run by LGBTQ and disabled entrepreneurs showcased products and services from clothes, art, reading materials and massage services, among others at the exhibition on Sunday.
Tabia Dusangiyiteto is a disabled woman from Musanze District who has been running a cloth weaving business for the past ten years, serving clients in her home town.
She lately found the going tough and her enterprise almost came to a collapse when the coronavirus pandemic struck, complicating both access to markets and raw materials.
Previously, the clothes weaver who belongs to the Rwanda Union of the Little People had attempted to expand her business into supply of school uniforms without success in absence of support that is tailored to people with disabilities in business like herself.
“Authorities could help us by offering tax incentives and preferential treatment when it comes to competing for tenders. There is also need to help us access market for what we do beyond areas we operate in like at exhibitions locally and abroad because we find it extremely expensive,” said Mrs. Dusangiyiteto.
“For someone with isadbility, we incur additional transport costs, some areas are not accessible yet we are subjected to the same conditions as everyone else in the business.”
She is not alone.
Her peers under Rwanda Union of the Blind (RUD) and other disabled people engaged in small businesses are yet to recover from setbacks suffered as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and market challenges that ensued.
Some were equally involved in saving groups that since stopped amid virus induced loss of work opportunities and business closures.
Challenges are no different for LGBTQ entrepreneurs who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity. They struggle to keep their fashion brands, art stores and other businesses afloat even as they still grapple with stigma and hate speech directed at them on and offline.
The British High Commission which brought these entrepreneurs together indicates that previous activities around inclusion and diversity had involved series of campaigns last year and early this year to raise awareness about disability issues, fight against homophobia, as well as support for women and LGBTQ.
“What we realized is that the issues they face is inability to progress economically, sell their goods and get greater awareness for the work that they are doing. We therefore thought it would be a good idea to bring them together in an exhibition like this,” Omar Daair, British High Commissioner to Rwanda, told Rwanda Post.
Mr. Daair, who is also UK’s non-resident ambassador to Burundi expressed concerns over the rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiments in neighboring countries.
Uganda’s parliament recently approved the anti-LGBTQ law that could see homosexuals in the country face up to life imprisonment.
Burundi, too, has come under intense criticism over its authorities’ stance on homosexuality.
Burundian government criminalised homosexuality since 2009, and its courts charged over 20 for homosexual practices this month.
“I think it’s shame to see these kind of laws and I’m glad that here in Rwanda the constitution abhors discrimination against anybody,” Daair observed, adding that this offers opportunity to explore space to progress further.