According to the World Health Organization, one in every three women suffers from some form of abuse, thus making violence against women one of the most pervasive problems in the world. It causes severe mental, emotional and physical health and is the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 16 to 44 – higher than war, cancer and traffic accidents. Violence against women is a grave global issue, one that has continued for centuries and taken various forms. Yet, despite its extensive reach throughout the world, violence against women is overlooked. Some regions, including the United States, have recently seen a rise in the number of cases. Without proper education and governmental pressure to end violence against women, the problem will continue to rise and the toll of victims will continue to climb.
In attempt to bring violence against women to an end, organizations across the globe are working to help victims and their families escape violent situations. They provide a number of services, ranging from shelter, food, education and work. Such organizations include Sol Naciente in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Middle Way House in Bloomington, Ind. Both are dedicated to providing women the opportunity to improve their lives by moving out of violent situations and toward independence. One way they do this is offering various types of workshops, such as sewing and computation. These programs are intended to teach the women a basic skill that can later be applied to a job. Mastery of these same skills can also bolster self-esteem among women attempting to exit demoralizing circumstances. In small group settings, like a workshop, women have the opportunity to think, speak, and learn without fear or inhibition. Organizations such as Sol Naciente and Middle Way House recognize the importance of empowering women through these kinds of techniques and programs, making them a priority.
As my senior thesis, I taught a workshop at Sol Naciente Fall 2010 while Human Rights and Social Movements with School for International Training’s study abroad program and again at Middle Way House Spring 2010 after I returned to Bloomington to finish the year. Every week, during both semesters, I met with a group of women, all of whom were victims of some form of domestic violence, and taught photography. Throughout the course, we discussed basic techniques, such as the use of light and composition, and how they are used to effectively tell stories and portray realities.
The workshop in photography expanded beyond teaching basic techniques, however. It connected the women around experiences that were shared but often tremendously difficult to verbalize. The workshop participants saw how photography constitutes an alternative language for conveying human emotions. By telling or sometimes showing personal memories, some of which were difficult to express, my students learned how photography can exceed boundaries and bring people together. It was especially interesting to see the similarities between both projects, despite their demographic differences.
In the midst of each course, I gave the women an opportunity to apply their knowledge and their understanding of photography with cameras I donated. After using these cameras for their own independent photography projects, the participants selected their favorite images, which I used to create a final book and video. The two medias, along with this blog, were conceived as the starting point for a network of female victims of domestic violence that transcends cultural and demographic boundaries and promotes social awareness about violence against women worldwide.
Throughout the development of this project, I came to find how photography as a workshop helped female victims of domestic violence move forward. Similar to other workshops, it occupied their minds, but it also helped them celebrate positive aspects in their lives. It provided the opportunity to capture what is important to them, whether it was loved ones like friends and family, or interests like other people and cultures.
The ability to share these memories and tell the stories behind them in a group was therapeutic. Each participant took their turn to tell or show their stories through the images they took while the others listened. This was a form of empowerment because everyone expressed their ideas and realities with the care and respect of other group members. They were able to overlook their differences and understand one another. Thus, it created for them a space of trust and support, allowing them to confide in one another without inhibition or fear. Therefore, it was an effective workshop. Although it covered just the basics of photography, much was gained.