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Amplifying Women’s Voices – A Power Shift Reflection

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Guest blog written by Marleen Bovenmars, Operations Manager and Participatory Video Trainer at InsightShare, an Oxford based Social Enterprise

Since I attended the Power Shift conference I have been reflecting on the thought provoking sessions and the many conversations I had with other attendees, to answer the question that we were presented with: what can and will you do to contribute to women’s empowerment over the next few years?

From research and design to evaluation, dissemination and advocacy – as a global Power Shift community we currently have many urgent needs. In this blog I outline how the participatory video methodology pioneered by InsightShare can contribute to addressing some of these by enabling people to see and hear one another in new ways.

By helping groups shape and create their own video messages we are able to cut through social, operational or hierarchical barriers and bring different stakeholders together to unlock innovative and appropriate solutions to critical issues. To understand more about this empowering process watch our TEDx talk. To put this into practice we need partners, so we urge you to see if any of the below resonates with your mission.

NEED 1: Better understand the needs and wishes of women and enable them to take action themselves

First of all, we need to better understand what positive and sustainable women’s empowerment means to different groups of women around the world. By starting our initiatives in collaboration with the women that we aim to support, we can develop a good understanding of their needs, wishes and priorities and how these are influenced by social, cultural, economic and political forces as well as their physical environment. Our participatory video processes enable groups to explore their needs, challenges and express their strengths and visions for positive change in an accessible way to academics, policy makers and NGO staff. In addition, we always support them to identify what they can do themselves to work towards positive changes and encourage them to use their video to mobilise other group or community members to take action.

This video was made by a group of Maasai women to get an insight into their vision of gender equality and hear how they are urging their community members, in particular the men, to change their practices in relation to marriage, education and health. A project delivered in partnership with UNA Finland.

NEED 2: Amplify women’s voices so they reach policy makers and inspire organisation change

We call out to research institutes and organisations that would like to give women a clear voice and a leading role in their studies or projects.

All around the world, government policies encourage practices that limit or even harm women. At the same time, targeted policy changes and budget allocations can also lead to great advances in women’s well-being. Participatory videos can bring the voices of women to places they may not be able to access, like the offices of government officials.

Participatory video can also be used to

empower cross-functional teams and staff in your companies and organisations. Breaking through gender based stereotypes and making sure all voices are heard equally, promoting culture change and unlocking innovation by cutting through organisational barriers caused by hierarchies or teams working in silos.

This film was shown on national television ahead of a parliamentary health debate and inspired the Tanzanian government to double their budget for midwife training. It was shot by 4 midwives and a doctor, and produced in partnership with the White Ribbon Alliance.

NEED 3: Involve women in the design processes of services and products

We call out to organisations that are interested in working with us to bring women’s issues and demands to the eyes and ears of policy and decision makers around the world. We also call out to companies and charities to consider using participatory video as a means of enabling different teams to share their needs and ideas in a participatory and fun format.

How can new or adapted services and products truly increase women’s well-being?

Design thinking realises that an effective design process starts by gathering clear insights from the current or future users. Participatory video can strengthen the voices of women users and enable them to be the drivers of innovation –  enabling design teams to respond more effectively to their needs and wishes. InsightShare have partnered with the Paris Est to bring participatory video and design thinking processes together and empower users to co-design game changing products and services.

NEED 4: Disseminate knowledge, skills and innovations in cost-effective ways

We call out to enterprises whose main drive originates from a wish to increase the well-being of women. We would like to work with you to develop tailor-made processes that combine design thinking and participatory video tools to inform the design of responsible and relevant products or services.

Once we know what knowledge, skills and innovations contribute to women’s empowerment and well-being, our key challenge is to identify effective strategies for education and inspiring behavioural change. Video can be an effective tool for disseminating knowledge and skills and motivating people to try new products, techniques or services. Participatory video can enable women to make recommendations from peer-to-peer. This is important as research shows that people are most likely to take advice from people they know and trust or who are like themselves.

Watch this video created for peer-to-peer sharing, focusing on the improved cooking stove that was made by local farmers and staff members from the Himalayan Permaculture Center in Nepal. The video not only shows exactly how to build and maintain the improved stove, it also presents all the benefits (that greatly contribute to women’s well-being) in a memorable way and addresses common misconceptions and worries.

NEED 5: Learn not just IF but also HOW initiatives have positive impacts on women’s well-being

We call out to organisations that wish to strengthen peer-to-peer sharing of knowledge, skills, services or technologies that contribute to women’s well-being. We can involve your audience in the production of a one-off video or train the right people to continue to produce videos by themselves.

To find out what initiatives truly contribute to increases in well-being through female empowerment, we need rigorous impact assessment processes, like the one presented by Mayra Buvinic and Markus Goldstein during the conference. These can provide us with the necessary quantitative insights but in order to go beyond knowing if and to what degree a project contributed to positive impacts, we need to develop a clear understanding of HOW the project fuelled the change. Our rigorous participatory video impact assessment approach enables project beneficiaries to share their stories of change and analyse the enabling factors as well as the main challenges that played a role in the changes that they experienced. This type of qualitative data helps to identify the changes, enablers and blockers specific to a certain group, time or context. We need these insights to make sure we are making the best use of funding and to guide us as we scale up initiatives or replicate them in new locations. Click here to download our brand new free toolkit all about how we use participatory video to measure and share project impacts.

In 2011 Nike Foundation asked us to capture the key learning coming out of BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihoods Adolescent program in Uganda. We trained 12 girls who had taken part in the programme to facilitate story circles and use participatory video to document the experiences of 300 other beneficiaries. Watch some of the powerful stories of change that they collectively identified to be the most significant. Or have a look at the report to get an impression of the valuable learning that came out of their participatory analysis.

NEED 6: Make people care about women’s struggles and inspire them to change

We call out to organisations and funders who wish to learn from the projects they are implementing and who would like to share those impacts internally and externally across their sector. Why not empower your beneficiaries to document their stories of change, analyse and present their experiences and make their recommendations in their own words.

As Alison Kiehl Friedman’s presentation made very clear: in order to motivate anyone to take action against injustice, they first need to be aware of the negative effects of the status quo. They need to understand the situation and – as behavioural change research shows us – they need to care. Although many choose to turn a blind eye, sometimes just one story can be enough to make people feel the injustice – and never forget it again. We therefore need to work together to give injustice a face and a voice.

In this documentary, you meet Clare whose touching story will give you an idea of what it is like to be female and homeless in the UK. This video was made by 7 people, none of whom had ever made a film before and 3 of whom have been homeless in the past. The project was funded by Aspire and Oxford Homeless Pathways.

We call out to organisations that work to highlight women’s struggles and human rights violations. For example, imagine how real stories documented by the people directly affected could contribute to the work of organisations such as the Global Fund to End Slavery in the battle against human trafficking.

Like Laurie Adams, who passionately talked about human rights abuses in many places around the world (during the ‘Legal Rights and Economic Power’ session), I often feel like crying when I think about the painful struggles of women around the world, particularly when I learn that things are getting worse instead of better. I am however hopeful that by working across sectors and by giving ordinary women a face and a voice in all key processes – from initial user-led research and co-design to impact assessment and peer-to-peer sharing – we can find ways to move in the right direction and speed up the global power shift.

If you’d like to learn more about the power of participatory video, visit the InsightShare Facebook page or click to download their free handbook: Insights into Participatory Video.


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