Let’s Speak Out
Sexual violence is rampant in Liberia. It occurs across all socio-economic backgrounds to women and children throughout the country. The assaults are hard to control due to a weak justice system, the lingering violence of war, and an unwillingness to report the attacks.
PCI Media Impact, along with its partners, have begun working with young women in Liberia, helping them tell their powerful stories in an effort to promote social change and improve the sexual and reproductive health rights of women throughout Liberia. For this particular program, a Photovoice project was implemented. Photovoice is a unique, innovative, and contemporary form of communication especially suited for hard-to-reach populations and sensitive subjects. The Photovoice method centers around taking photographs, but also involves learning to express opinions, to interpret and discuss images, to work as part of a group, to develop ideas and a voice, to edit and caption images, and to identify and define audience and messages.
Our Photovoice project, that began in January 2013 at the THINK home in Liberia, aims to support and empower young Liberian women who suffered gender-based violence and sexual abuse during the civil war. Using the power of photography and storytelling, the project hopes to break the silence on this violence, acting as a catalyst for social change throughout Liberia.
In addition to the Photovoice project, a Liberian rapper named Takun J has produced songs promoting an end to gender based violence on behalf of the women in Liberian. He has worked closely with those young women of the THINK home, learning their stories and incorporating their experiences and hardship within his lyrics.
With funds sourced through an Indiegogo campaign, PCI Media Impact provided each of the 25 women and girls at the THINK (Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness) home for young female victims of violence with a digital camera. The girls of the THINK home, ranging from age 13 to 24, have all been victims of gender based violence at the hands of men, women, strangers, and family members. Each one of them has a unique story about their past, their experiences, and their hopes for the future. But despite the differences among the girls’ stories, each one has an equal capacity to start a conversation within communities and change the situation of women within Liberia. Our aim is to help these girls find their voice and tell their stories through the art of photography.
Guided by the overarching theme “What does it mean to be a woman in Liberia?”, the women at THINK learned the basics of participatory photography throughout the week-long workshop. Engaging in small, focused discussions, the girls chose six photos that represented their experiences as a woman in Liberia in the past, present, and future. The week concluded with a gallery walk, presentation and discussion of their favorite photos.
In addition to photography, PCI Media Impact and its partners view music as another medium that can be utilized. Given the extreme sensitivity of rape and sexual violence, and the unique power of music to facilitate healing and to capture society-wide awareness and dialogue, music has been included as a natural and powerful force in the Mobilize4Africa program. Takun J, a Hipco artist, has visited and been inspired by the girls of the THINK home. One of his songs incorporates the story of one girl he has met during his time at the THINK home. Takun J has become a kind of ambassador for these young women and works to use his Liberian style music as a way to promote messages against gender-based violence.
The Photovoice project provided an emotional illustration of the hardships experienced by young women before and after Liberia’s civil war. Despite the gravity of the stories shared by the participants, the Photovoice workshop inspired further hope and courage for the future. Reflections on the program included statements such as “It helps to tell my friends out there that they should feel courage to go to school, because education is the key to success” and “I will advise my friends not to have a baby at a young age. If you say no to boys and they still come to you, you go to the police.”
The PCI Media Impact workshop has created the potential for an international exhibition showcasing these women, their stories, and their photos. Group leaders have been identified to ensure that the use of photography to represent women’s voices in Liberia continues. Creating an international platform for the Photovoice projects will charge larger support to end the vicious acts committed against women in Liberia.
Through his music, Takun J has not only been able to inspire these girls to get their stories out, but also can promote social change on a large scale. His music has become more and more popular within Liberia, meaning more and more people are hearing his message. Takun J was recently names “Best Hip Co Artist of the Year” by the Liberian Entertainment Awards (a US based organization that recognizes Liberians across the diaspora). He has plans to continue distributing and performing his music, hoping to get the much needed message behind his lyrics to all of Liberia. In addition, Takun J is in the process of creating a music video that will feature the girls of the THINK home, further promoting them, their stories, and hope for all women throughout the country.
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