Breaking with tradition, African women dare to denounce violence through digital storytelling
By Sylvie Niombo
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, 09 October 2007
Violence against women was the theme of a recent digital storytelling workshop organised by APC-Africa-Women and Women’sNet, held in Durban, South Africa from 25 to 29 August 2007. APC-Africa-Women is the African regional programme of the Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP), an international network of women who support women’s networking for social change and women’s empowerment through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Seventeen women from throughout Africa gathered for one week to develop the skills to use technology for the creation of digital stories as a means of combating domestic, sexual and other forms of violence faced by African women. “We seem to be different, we speak different languages, we live different lives, but we are all the same. We share the same experience of being women who must confront violence,” one participant emphasised.
The objectives of the workshop were to demonstrate the potential of digital stories for promoting social change, to create content developed by women and for women, and to develop the ICT skills and capacities of the participants.
How can ICTs help clarify the complexity and confusion posed by traditions and laws?
Tradition is deeply rooted in our lives, and the prevailing attitudes in society place women at a disadvantage. In many communities, women are forced to remain silent and are unable to demand their rights. They rarely have the chance to speak, and are not allowed to express themselves in front of men.
For the most part, African women who are victims of violence are obliged to keep the silence and secrecy imposed by society. They have no other alternatives. In cases of misconduct, in some countries like the Congo the law is more repressive towards women than men. In countries like Mali and Gambia, families have a major influence on women, and they are seldom free to make their own choices.
But what exactly can ICTs do to help combat violence against African women? Throughout the five days of the workshop, for the first time ever, the participants shared their stories in order to discover what they had in common: their suffering, fear, troubles, tears, but above all, the courage to survive violence. Essentially, as one participant pointed out, “Technology is a tool, something used for this purpose. But it is really all about people, relationships with others, shared stories. People are always at the centre of the technology.”
Creating a digital story is not just a question of using software: It is a process of empowerment
The workshop trainers then taught the participants some storytelling tips, guiding them to highlight the key moments in their stories through a script. “I must say that it was a privilege to encounter women with such a high level of intelligence, women ready to open themselves up and express their fears,” said one of the workshop participants. Once the scripts were completed, the women made sound recordings of them with their own voices and their own rhythms.
As part of the highly creative process of producing digital stories, the women at the workshop combined their words with powerful images with the help of software programmes like Adobe Photoshop and Premiere. “I always looked at Adobe Photoshop like it was ‘Greek’, and I never dreamt of using it! But you made it really easy. I’m proud of myself. I’m well equipped,” commented one participant.
The participants worked long hours on the computers, creating powerful digital stories that address a wide range of issues and evoke the challenges faced by women. Through this process they developed short videos that recount their own personal experiences. “Focus and discipline, that’s a principle I learned, and I think it works better,” several of the women noted.
Prevented from expressing themselves, African women rarely have the right to choose, but today technology gives them that power
It is obvious that some stories truly must be told in order to promote change and heal wounds. During the workshop, some participants declared that “a weight has been lifted,” that they felt “a sense of lightness because of never having to keep silent again.”
The “digital” in digital storytelling refers to the medium used to transmit the stories. Digital stories are simply stories created and shared using digital media.
Digital stories hold tremendous power for bringing about change. They are powerful tools for advocacy and bring a new dimension to the fight against violence against women. These digital stories speak about women’s inequality, hope, and the commitment of those who have decided to break the taboos and encourage women to make their own choices. Though digital stories, women can demand their rights. The impact and power of images and words are used creatively to contribute to safeguarding women’s rights.
During the workshop, the women were also able to freely express themselves through blogging. For some of them it was the first time, and they responded enthusiastically: “Blogging is great and for me it’s more interesting than sending email messages. It’s an open space, a free space that’s more inclusive.”
Women working for change are often forgotten
Digital stories can be used to create awareness, and women can build on their own experiences or those of others to take the next step. Many girls and women have lost their lives, and the WENT Africa workshop participants remembered them by lighting candles and observing a minute of silence. It was a powerful moment that led many of those present to fully realise how many of our sisters have their lives cut short by violence.
Digital stories can also serve to highlight women’s actions and activism. Although women are often at the root of the major changes in their communities, very few of them are acknowledged. “That was my experience during the digital storytelling workshop. I let out all my anger and was left fulfilled for a long time, by telling my story in a safe space. The fact is that through the workshop I have gained something tangible: skills and knowledge that no one can ever take away from me.”