What an amazing couple of months it’s been. After my time in Vietnam I was back just a short while before I then left again for India, followed by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
India: Halima, 26, was the first person to start the womens’ group in this area. While initially she went door to door encouraging women to join the groups, now she helps to train other women to do the same and to run their own groups.
In India I was doing some work for ActionAid with a very inspiring group of women from a Muslim community in West Bengal. Previously not allowed to leave their homes without a husband or male family member, With ActionAid’s support, now 1,500 of them are bucking tradition and religious norms to form powerful womens’ groups. Here they gather to discuss and go after some of the Government entitlements that can benefit their families and communities. If the bureaucracy is not being fair and giving them their rights, they front up as a group and demand action. If was a wonderful privilege to meet the women and see such positive change taking place as they get their entitlements from the Government and are granted greater decision making powers, respect and dignity within their own communities.
Bangladesh: Atika, 27, is the first Dalit woman to get a position working for local Government. Here she is shown flanked by other women from her village – all of whom are really proud of what she has achieved both for herself and for them as a community.
After India I had a break from work and did some travel around Sri Lanka – somewhere I have never been before. It’s a beautiful country and while I’d never normally classify myself as a landscape photographer, you couldn’t go wrong with some of the stunning scenery there…
From Sri Lanka it was on to Bangladesh, another place I had never been. Unlike India there are much fewer tourists (I actually didn’t see any at all in my 3 weeks there!) and English is not very widely spoken. As a solo white woman travelling around I was something of a curiosity, often finding myself surrounded by a group of people who just wanted to look at me or find out where I was from. Having said this, I had a very good experience with everyone I met – people who are warm, friendly and very hospitable. It’s also a beautiful country – lush and green – and I hope to be able to return there again one day.
While I was there, when I wasn’t travelling, I was gathering more stories and photos for ActionAid. Again, the focus was on women’s rights and so I was inspired all over again by the resilience of women in trying situations and the great work that ActionAid is doing to help them to realise their rights. I met with women who have been attacked with acid and who are now part of a survivors network who gain support and improved self confidence from the group as well as the ability to access benefits to sustain them in the future. I also met with a couple of Dalit women (Dalit’s are frequently referred to as ‘untouchable’ and are the ‘lowest’ caste in society). Dalit’s face huge discrimination but these two women were evidence of how discriminatory attitudes can be broken down and how Dalit’s like anyone else, have the right to get ahead in life.
I was particularly moved by the story of Atika Begum, who at only 27, is the first woman Dalit to get into local Government. Her story was one of huge challenges and she had to get three times the number of votes than her male counterparts to take office but she got there. Despite the fact she is only earning $18 per month, she feels it is worth it to bring good to her community and change attitudes.
Bangladesh: This young girl lost her mother in the collapse of Rana Plaza. This is the image which won a recent Head On award in the Captured exhibition.
On a much sadder note, while I was in Banglades, a building (Rana Plaza) housing 5 garment factories collapsed killing over 1000 people, mostly women. The whole country was in shock and it was heartbreaking to see so many people who had lost their wives, daughters, sisters… I was able to witness the tragedy first hand when, as part of ActionAid’s response to the crisis, I visited the site and met with the survivors and their families afterwards.I also had the chance to visit a different garment factory and talk with some of the workers in the slums where they live. We also visited the Rights Cafe supported by ActionAid which is training these women in their labour rights so that tragedies like this are less likely in the future.
I won a Head On award for one of my photos from Bangladesh, will be exhibiting some of the images in an exhibition in Bangladesh and was selected to show an audio visual slideshow of the disaster at the Nikon Walkley Slidenight tonight if you would like to come along! Starts at 6pm at the State LIbrary of NSW, in the Metacalfe Auditorium.
And now I am back. But only for a couple of weeks. In no time at all I will be taking off for East Timor to shoot some more video and stills for AFAP. Stay tuned for an update on that…