Earlier this year, ActionAid UK launched ‘Women by Women’ an innovative year-long campaign that elevates the underrepresented stories and voices of women and girls. We spoke to Taahra Ghazi, Deputy Director of Communications at ActionAid UK to take a look behind the scenes of this unique campaign.
Q: How did you develop the idea for Women by Women?
For some time, ActionAid has been looking for ways to champion the empowering stories of women and girls and highlight the incredible talent of women photographers in Africa, Asia and Latin America – all of which are so often overlooked.
We wanted to ensure that our visual storytellers are as diverse as the communities we are representing and raise awareness of the everyday lives and experience of women and girls living in the global south – their positive energy, strength, courage and determination to break down barriers however small.
This is how we arrived at the idea of a meeting of two women – a subject and a photographer – to tell a story.
Q: Women by Women feels very timely, why do you think it is resonating so well in the current climate?
Women by Women is reflective of an increasingly loud conversation currently happening in the photographic community concerning the roles and talents of women photographers. After years of being overlooked, lens culture is starting to take note of the amazing women photographers all over the world and the perspective they can bring to a story.
It is also a remarkably positive project which lets the artists and subjects lead with personal, empathetic content which truly reflects their lives and perspectives. The impact this creates is authentic, beautiful and moving and people connect with this. We are showing daily realities and changing the way in which women are represented in the Global South, by giving them the platform to represent themselves.
Storytelling is vital to our global knowledge and to our understanding of our fellow humans. In today’s social media-enchanted, time-strapped culture, the power of imagery is never more relevant and the need for authentic, impactful stories never more compelling.
Q: This is an ambitious campaign, with lots of collaboration with external photographers. How have you found working with the artists? How did you find the right photographers to work with?
Being able to engage and work with women photographers from the global south has been both an eyeopener and an absolute privilege. To work with so many talented photographers who have voiced not only their enthusiasm for Women by Women but have gone on to be so inspired by the women subjects has been a joyous collaboration.
As you would expect, each photographer has a different creative style from the next and allowing this creativity to fully flow, without having to give the normal NGO type brief has been very liberating. The photographers have been found through the increasingly prominent network of women in photography that’s found on the internet, databases and information that lead you to a whole host of truly incredible and diverse female talent, as well as through our federation partners.
Q: How have you spread the word about the campaign, and how has it fed into your comms/media strategy? Have you found the media receptive to the story?
Our main channel for Women by Women has been Instagram as we really want to have these photos shared and engage new audiences. But we have also been pitching to main news outlets – the launch content by female photographers in Afghanistan featured in the Guardian, for example. Most outlets are very receptive to this content as it is bold, authentic and unique.
Q: What do you think has been most successful about the campaign so far?
We have seen very high engagement rates on Instagram. The ‘behind-the-scenes’ video footage which shows the photographers in action in Afghanistan has resonated and driven most of our traffic to the website. The images which are unexpected and really break down stereotypes have been the most successful. These include the images shot by Tahmina Saleem in Afghanistan showing women doing yoga in the snow in Kabul and a street artist who spray paints murals on walls that depict powerful women.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the campaign? What have you learned from the process?
Researching the stories of the women, ensuring that they can work visually and then getting the photographer on board – a photographer that we have never worked with and who is on another continent – is a lengthy process and requires both an enormous amount of work and trust for it all to come together successfully.
We have learned that there is a huge appetite for women to tell the stories of other women, that there is a real desire by the photographers to engage with their subjects and when those forces come together it produces some truly incredibly imagery.
Finally, how do you anticipate Women by Women evolving over the rest of the year? What do you hope to achieve with the campaign? What would success look like?
Initially this is a year-long project which will culminate in an exhibition of all the photographers’ work in the Spring of 2020. We hope to achieve recognition for the work of women photographers working in challenging environments in the global south, and the women and girls breaking down barriers, both big and small.
We also hope to engage more people in the work of ActionAid, so they can understand what it means to be a grassroots organisation that supports local women to support themselves. ActionAid is working for a world where the most vulnerable and forgotten women and girls can become valued and powerful. This means it is imperative that their voices are heard loud and clear across our communications.
Beyond the exhibition, we would love to see how different the world would look if all of our work across fundraising and communications were shot by women photographers and videographers living and working in the communities in the countries where they live. That would be groundbreaking.
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