Lucy learning how to operate th camera at the Cameras For Girls workshop in Uganda

How The Camera Is A Tool To Empower Women In Africa

When you think of Africa, what comes to mind? Scenes of famine, children crying, and poverty? While these things do exist in Africa (as they do in many other parts of the world), there are also people making strides to change their lives and the lives of others.

As technology becomes more widely accessible to the people of Africa, it also brings with it increased opportunity for women to become stronger and more empowered by challenging cultural norms and inspiring the youth around them to pursue their passions and dreams. Learn how the camera is a tool to empower women in Africa.

Brandy taking photos at the CFG workshop in Kampala, Uganda

Brandy Valentine Azeirwe from our 2019 Cameras For Girls Training in Uganda

The challenges women face in African countries

African women in many cultures face cultural norms that limit their power, both inside and outside of their families. Women often have difficulty making decisions without first obtaining permission from a male family member or husband. They also lack control over resources such as land and money. There is also little female representation in government positions, meaning there are fewer systems in place to protect women’s rights. This can lead to violations of rights when it comes to marriage, divorce, inheritance and education opportunities—not just for women but also for girls who make up half of an African nation’s population.

Cameras can support income generation activities

This is just one example of how cameras can empower marginalized females in Africa. Having a camera gives women in Africa an opportunity to capture their surroundings, family life, and work in ways that bring them recognition—and income—in their communities. It also allows them to connect with people around the world and share their stories on an unprecedented scale. It may be possible for both smartphone and camera technology to empower women around the world by improving access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities, and legal protections for girls.

Cameras for Girls has already demonstrated how cameras can support income generation activities for women. With a camera, Lydia can now earn an income from her photography as well as from extra work offered by clients (such as event photography). This will ultimately help to alleviate poverty in her village and increase her status and dignity. Another example is Joanita, who had a job as a journalist but was not getting paid, like her fellow male journalists, because she lacked a camera and did not know how to use it.

Image by Ugandan student Joanita Nakatte

Image by Ugandan student Joanita Nakatte


Women are more vulnerable in poverty so they need special care

For example, 25% of maternal deaths in low-income countries are linked to pregnancy complications. This is just one facet that women in Africa have to deal with. Photographers like Miriam Watsemba and Ruth Esther Mbabazi have taken notice of issues in their own communities and have been leading efforts to document them. The result has been a wealth of meaningful photographic narratives depicting subjects with insight and compassion.

For example, Camera for Girls is an organization that partners with aid organizations to teach photography to marginalized females in Africa (like single mothers). After gaining confidence through training and practice sessions, women use their cameras to tell stories about life in their community which include human rights violations as well as stories about what gives them hope for a better future.

Working with local universities to provide skills and job opportunities

This solution was pioneered by KENYA-based photographer Paula Allen who worked with a local university to train and support young women in their photography skills. Some of those women eventually went on to become full-time professional photographers, working for international news outlets such as CNN and Reuters. In addition, teaching photography to marginalized females in Africa has benefits beyond photography, including that it is frequently a gateway into journalism (which is itself an industry that offers opportunities for these individuals). Opportunities like these not only benefit society as a whole but also improve visibility for black female creatives around the world.

At Cameras For Girls, we partner with universities, such as Makerere University and Uganda Christian University in Uganda to help recruit students from the Journalism and Communications program.  It’s a natural fit as our program is about job creation for African female students in the journalism sector – a typically male-dominated space.

Elizabeth learning at the Cameras For Girls workshop in Kampala, Uganda

Elizabeth learning at the Cameras For Girls workshop in Kampala, Uganda

Documenting maternal health issues as a way to start conversations

One of the Commonwealth’s biggest goals is to empower women in Africa through documenting cultural norms. We want people to see things that they aren’t accustomed to seeing. There are many people that don’t understand or take into consideration just how many deaths there are during pregnancy, and after childbirth. It is a very sensitive topic for some people, especially those who have lost loved ones due to maternal health issues.

A large number of our students are young mothers who are either single or married and they are very passionate about this and other issues relating to the health of females in the African diaspora. By giving them photography skills-based training, they are able to tell the stories that matter to them and their communities.  For instance, Vivian Agaba is a young journalist who completed our training in 2018 and is now sharing her stories on maternal and child health and is doing a fabulous job.  She was empowered with storytelling and photography skills and is now leading the way for future generations of female journalists in Uganda.

Helps women tell their stories

There is a stigma around female photographers, especially in countries where women are treated as second-class citizens. Many African cultures tend to put more pressure on women and girls to stay home, have children and take care of them instead of working or being active members of society. However, many powerful photos show that women can use cameras as tools to break down these barriers and empower themselves. They can connect with like-minded individuals in other cities across Africa or even other parts of the world by sharing stories through photography. Digital cameras make it easy for just about anyone to produce high-quality images, so more people will be able to share their stories online—and possibly change cultural attitudes towards women everywhere.

Combining technology and passion, we have been teaching women in Africa how to use a camera as a tool to empower them and help them tell their stories. So many people live around us who are so inspiring and amazing, but they just aren’t getting heard; at Cameras For Girls, we want to change that. We want to help women all over Africa speak out about issues that affect them and their communities. We want you to hear those voices—the people you pass by every day on your way to work or school, who sell products on your street corner, whose children go to school with yours—and be moved by what they have to say. That’s why we started Cameras For Girls: because we believe that every woman has the right to be heard and to express herself.

Lucy learning how to operate th camera at the Cameras For Girls workshop in Uganda

Lucy learning how to operate the camera at the Cameras For Girls workshop in Uganda

Provides freedom, equity and access to a better life

Powering up women is all about giving them agency. By investing in their ability to be independent and take care of themselves, you’re offering them a better life through access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities that are usually reserved for men. All three of these components give people in developing nations freedom, equity and access to a better life. When women have power over themselves, they can empower others around them, creating a ripple effect that spreads far beyond any one person’s sphere of influence. Investing in women isn’t just kindness or charity; it is an investment that provides returns like higher gross domestic product growth rates, increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs.

By providing women with cameras, we give them a voice and the opportunity to make change in their world. Spaces for new perspectives are the need of the hour. Empowering women by giving them cameras is good for two reasons. One, it allows them to continue to work and do what they love in society, but two, it also does wonders for them personally. Technology such as photography is given to women, and it can be used for social good and for empowering females in Africa.

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