Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign uses PhotoVoice to Ensure that children’s needs are heard.
Children across Africa, between the ages of 12 and 18, spoke about how they see themselves in their communities – their perceptions of adults, their understandings of gender and HIV/AIDS, and their experiences with service delivery, with school and sometimes with illness, abuse and hunger.
After the initial conversations, participants were trained in photography skills, writing and story development and ultimately transferred their stories into photography and writing.
Contrary to popular ideas of the oppressed female, their perceptions revealed the social injustices for men within communities; the roles and expectations placed upon fathers, as well as the implications of these for the social welfare of sons.
Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign found gender equality to be a new concept to all participating children, who grew up with the understanding that men and women have their own, separate roles to play in society.
“In rural communities boys are encouraged to be superior, strong and sexually active, so at first, neither boys nor girls understood what gender equality is,” says Nyanda Khanyile, Sonke PhotoVoice project manager. “They think it’s about giving privileges to girls.”
“I learnt many things,” says 15-year-old Thulane Shange. “I used to think boys and girls can’t do the same things. I thought girls have to clean, cook and do chores around the house, and boys have to fetch firewood and herd cattle.” He says he now understands that women can also be heads of households and should be given the same rights and responsibilities as men.
Khanyile says he was particularly impressed by the fact that, when thinking about hopes and dreams, the children identified issues that could benefit the community as a whole, not only them: “I was amazed that the children chose far-reaching issues that affect everybody in their communities and their childhood development. None of them spoke about personal gain.”
A key focus of the project was the roles men play in children’s lives, including whether men – their fathers, uncles, teachers, religious and traditional leaders and government officials – are involved in caring and supporting them, particularly in the context of gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.
It became apparent that most children have distanced relationships with their fathers, many of whom, due to high unemployment rates in the area, work in cities far away from Nkandla – Durban, Pietermaritzburg or Johannesburg – and return home only a few times a year.
“Fathers are largely absent in the children’s lives and are seen as fearful figures who earn the money and lay the law,” explains Nyanda Khanyile.
“Children have a closer relationship to their mothers and gogos who care for them, feed them and teach them values.”
In their PhotoVoice stories, some children said they wished their fathers were more involved in their lives and play a role, other than financial, in taking care of them. Others pointed out positive, male role models they knew in their community.
“We want to encourage ownership and participation and persuade adults to respond with action to children’s voices,” explains Khanyile.
Credits to Kristin Pallitza.