Amina Mohamed, founded Cameras For Girls to change the lives of girls and women in Uganda, through the power of photography.
An important topic that we don’t hear about enough is female oppression in the developing world. The term developing world describes low-income countries that don’t have the same standards of living as wealthier nations like the United States, Japan, Canada, and Western Europe. These poorer countries are mostly located in Asia, Africa, South America, and Central America. In these developing countries, women still face gender inequality every day that they try to function in society; they lack opportunities to lead fulfilling lives and are often put down or held back from pushing forward, just because of their gender.
While this issue might seem like it doesn’t impact you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, gender inequality is one of the most important issues in the developing world, and its importance extends far beyond the boundaries of that region. That’s because women, who make up approximately half of the population worldwide, often don’t receive the same opportunities as men do to get an education, hold down jobs, earn money and determine how they want to live their lives.
Two small girls tending the family shop in Uganda instead of being in school @Amina Mohamed Photography
What is Female Oppression?
The United Nations has defined female oppression as …the control and exploitation of women by men through overt or covert legal, economic, cultural or religious mechanisms (CEDAW/C/GC/27). In other words, gender inequality. Female oppression is different from gender inequality because gender inequality is a phenomenon that transcends individual acts of discrimination and propagates into a broader social system; female oppression is that social system – it exists within institutionalized frameworks including government and policy-making structures. It includes any act of distinction, exclusion or restriction made on account of sex or failure to conform to socially established norms based on one’s sex.
Gender inequality is a term for societal inequalities favouring one gender over another. It can lead to situations where women and girls lack access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities and are vulnerable to physical and sexual violence. While it might be easy to point fingers at developing countries like India or Nigeria as hotbeds of oppression, female oppression exists in all corners of our world—including here in North America. The first step towards addressing female oppression is acknowledging its prevalence; women’s rights activists often refer to human rights issues as gender issues because they affect both men and women. Countries with high levels of gender inequality also have higher instances of HIV/AIDS infections and lower life expectancies.
The primary reason we targeted the developing world and specifically Africa for our work with Cameras For Girls, is to target this issue of female oppression and also female inequality that exists. We have seen firsthand, how the provision of a camera and the subsequent training that goes with it, can change the life of a girl in Uganda, and furthermore, it can also change the lives of her family and community.
Image courtesy of Hello You Creatives
What are some examples of female oppression?
The many problems plaguing women around the world are too numerous to count. Examples include female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and domestic violence. These issues vary between regions and can even differ within a single nation depending on social class, religion, and other factors. The key point is that there’s a huge variety of issues between developed nations (where women’s rights are protected) and developing ones (where they aren’t).
One of the main issues we hear about in the developed world stems from the fact that women don’t have access to clean water, which means they must walk long distances with their children just to get enough to drink. Many die or get harassed during these treks. Yet their villages continue to grow due to population growth and lack of contraception. As a result, women do not receive an education; they rarely work outside of the home; and then they are expected to bear and raise numerous children, typically on their own.
A recent example of female oppression was reported in Sudan, where a woman named Noura Hussein was raped by her husband’s uncle. In some places, she would have had no recourse because it is illegal for women to leave their homes without male accompaniment or permission. Rape is usually only a crime if it occurs outside of marriage, so if Noura was wearing clothing that covered most of her body and therefore wasn’t asking for it, she wouldn’t be able to report him as a rapist. But according to media reports, her brother went to an advocacy group for help because he believed she should not be forced into an unhappy marriage with someone who raped her.
Gender inequality’s link to development
Gender inequality is often overlooked as a development issue; it’s much easier to concentrate on alleviating poverty or promoting economic growth. But as our economies grow, it’s worth looking at gender inequality as a development issue: according to one study, while reducing extreme poverty increased life expectancy by 9 years, gender equality could add another 16 years of life. That’s because women are more likely than men to develop diseases caused by poor health and nutrition—they’re twice as likely to suffer from depression and three times more likely to commit suicide. Gender-based violence is also connected with an array of problems including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain.
And it’s not only women who are affected: children’s opportunities are linked to those of their mothers. So, when a country doesn’t value female citizens as much as male ones, its development suffers. The evidence is clear: Gender inequality is holding countries back from reaching their full potential.
The sexualization of girls
Media plays a huge role in how girls and women are portrayed. According to UNICEF, across all cultures, media is used as a very powerful propaganda tool to convey norms, values and social constructions of gender, and it continues to reflect male dominance while shaping public perception of girls’ roles and identity from early childhood. It also teaches them what their proper place is, which usually translates into less education and more isolation at home. UNICEF states that exposure to harmful traditional practices such as child marriage doubles when female characters are shown submitting passively to husbands or boyfriends; meanwhile young men consistently show dominant traits with no consequences for actions.
But, even worse than that is that the sexualization of girls has become so normalized. In much of Africa, for example, about half of all women ages 20 to 24 have already experienced female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that involves partial or total removal of external female genitalia. In Indonesia and Malaysia, more than 90 percent of all women have gone through FGM by age 15. And according to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women alive today are survivors. But a large number of developed countries aren’t doing much about it either — one reason being that some don’t think it’s worth addressing because it doesn’t affect them directly.
What can you do to help?
The two most important things you can do to help: 1) donate your time and money to organizations working towards female equality; 2) use your social capital to spread awareness. Don’t underestimate what a difference word-of-mouth recommendations can make; your opinion carries a lot of weight with those who trust you. Chances are, there are people in your life who don’t know that women around them face oppression—so educate them! Educate yourself as well. Dig into history books, learn about current events, read up on studies done by other researchers. In doing so, you’ll develop more empathy for others. Understanding comes before change . . . but only if we share our knowledge with others!
We are always looking for volunteers to help out at Cameras For Girls. Our mission is to use the power of photography to empower females in Africa to find full-time work in the journalism and communications sectors. To date, we have taught 32 girls in Uganda, and 10 in South Africa. Our fundraising efforts support the purchase of cameras for each girl, a year-long photography curriculum, delivered both in-person and online and a powerful business skills training that helps them put their best foot forward.
If you are interested in getting involved please reach out to us at [email protected] and if you are willing to donate to our cause please check out our Canada Helps or Paypal Giving Fund pages.
Remember, whether you pay attention to local or international calls for action – like Nike says “Just do it!”
The smallest efforts can lead to big changes for those who need it most.