How photography workshops transformed women in Indonesia

"I depict here the vulnerable situation that often experienced by migrant workers and their family, which is caused by their poor condition in their home country and problems that they may encounter in the place where they work. This picture reflects the government's effort to show the state's presence; protecting the whole nation and citizens, and give sense of security and protecting the right and safety of its people overseas, particularly its migrant workers."

Empowering people with photography isn’t a new idea. Teaching communities how to use cameras so they can document their own lives has been done before. But PhotoVoice, a UK based NGO, figured out a way to impact change with their method of participatory photography, and produced amazing results for a group of Indonesian women. We wanted to share what they did:

PhotoVoice, worked with an Indonesian organization, Mampu, to teach women to use cameras, so they could visualize the problems they were facing in their lives. But they realized the training by itself wasn’t enough to affect change in the communities. So they took more steps:

1) They trained local organizations to support the participants on a daily basis.

2) Within the workshops, after teaching them how to use the cameras, they worked on messaging and confidence — the women learned how to caption their photos effectively, and also built up faith in themselves so they believed they could have a powerful impact.

3) Finally, there were two sets of workshops spaced eight months apart, so when PhotoVoice came back for the second time, they could address any longer term issues that had developed, and see what still needed to be changed.

The impact: The photos, which mainly focused on migrant issues, were seen at local exhibitions at the end of the first workshop and also used for advocacy at the National Conference for Parliamentarians in Indonesia. The women continued to take photos between two sets of workshops and their images became an important tool to lobby policy makers for protection of migrant workers. On the island of Lombok, where one set of workshops was held, three villages implemented local legislation to protect migrants. Additionally the participants wanted reform at a higher level, and their interests were presented at a national conference on migrant workers.

These results are impressive, and had a lasting affect on the women and their communities. Although it’s hard to show exact cause and effect, the participants and the community felt the photography had been impactful in the efforts to raise awareness and change laws for migrants.

How does an NGO affect change with their photos and video? How is that success measured?

In our work at Vignette Interactive, we find this is an issue facing a lot of organizations. Talking to PhotoVoice offered good insight into how grassroots photography can be used, and success measured.

A very interesting project with a great result!

By Tara Todras-Whitehill

Tara worked as a staff photographer for the Associated Press for four years in the Middle East, covering the uprisings, revolutions and numerous elections in the Arab world. Her photography has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic and Washington Post, among many others. She also works on personal projects focused on women's issues. Her passion is trying to portray strong women changing their lives and the world around them.

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