Young artists use fashion and data to promote dialog on sexual health

A pioneering new initiative challenged Tanzania’s creative community to design data-informed khangas — fabrics traditionally containing social messages — that promote reproductive health and gender equality.

This blog post was published as part of the Data Zetu project. Data Zetu is now an initiative of the Tanzania dLab, a local NGO that promotes innovation and data literacy through a premier center of excellence. For more information about the dLab, visit www.dlab.or.tz. For more information about the Data Zetu project, visit www.irex.org.

This khanga — the winning design — embeds data from the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey, which reports that 1 out of 2 married women in Tanzania have been emotionally, sexually or physically abused by their past or current husbands. 1 in 2 hearts in the border pattern is hollow, to represent this statistic.

Can fashion design motivate youth to have conversations about the issues that are affecting them? Can “data” be made meaningful when it becomes part of something you wear? These are the questions that Tanzania Bora Initiative, a Data Zetu partner, sought to answer when they first collaborated with Faru Arts and Sports Development Organization (FASDO) in 2017 to design and implement the Temeke Khanga Design Competition, part of the Data Zetu program.

Inspiring fashion designers to develop data-driven designs

The competition challenged young fashion designers from Temeke District, Tanzania’s second most populous district, to depict messages about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and sexual and gender based violence (GBV) — critical priority issues for Temeke residents as highlighted in community-based conversations — using the medium of khanga (cotton fabric, worn by women mostly in East African countries, that traditionally contain powerful social messages).

With training and mentoring support led by the TBI and FASDO team, these designers were encouraged to incorporate data into their design in creative ways which are expected to spark conversation and learning among the women who wear it, and among those they pass on the street.

The khanga competition included training for designers on how to access, interpret, and embed data into their work. 92% of surveyed participants reported sharing these new data skills with others — with each one sharing them with average of almost four people.
What these designers have done with the data sets we provided is very creative and informative. This is a way of disseminating data we have never thought of.
— Temeke District Coordinator for DREAMS and competition judge

Through November and December 2017, over 75 young fashion designers participated in training where they learned about the concept and importance of data, how to search for data from credible sources, how to artistically visualize data and developed strategies for integrating data into their designs.

Designers had a chance of getting trained by some of the best data practitioners in the country, including Rose Aiko, an open data consultant with experience working on Tanzania’s open data program, and one of the top fashion designers(Martin Kadinda, an award-winning designer). For many of the participants, this competition and training was the first time they were challenged to think about fashion through this lens of data.

Data Zetu Statistical Coordinator Rose Aiko, who has worked with the Government of Tanzania’s open data initiative, shares data sources and open data projects with fashion designers at a training session.

And the experience was eye-opening. 100% of surveyed participants (not all were surveyed) reported an increase in their perceived value of data, and the same number reported an increase in their skills with engaging with data (accessing, sharing, or cleaning datasets). What’s most exciting is the potential knock-on effects of these activities; 92% of surveyed participants reported sharing their new data skills with others — with each one sharing them with average of almost four people.

This data training has expanded our way of thinking especially on what themes to use for our yearly fashion competitions. Since our aim is to make a change in our society we will make sure we use data to create themes for young fashion designers to incorporate them in their designs.
— Tunukiwa Daudi, FASDO Project Officer
Sir Magina from VETA teaching the finalists how to change their Khanga designs into a professional print-ready design

Selecting the winning designs

Two months after first being launched in early November 2017, over 100 individual designers submitted their designs via the Love Art Tanzania website. These designs were closely reviewed by a panel of diverse judges, including experts from the fashion and public health fields who narrowed the pool to 20 designs. These 20 applicants then participated in a secondary training where they were guided to refine and professionalize their designs resulting in 20 final designs which were reviewed by the judges. The judges considered the designers’ use of data, creativity, and relevance to the topical areas, among other factors, finally resulting in the selection of three winners.

What these designers have done with the data sets we provided is very creative and informative. This is a way of disseminating data we have never thought of.
- Charles Kamugisha, Temeke District Coordinator for DREAMS and Khanga Competition Judge
Judges in a session for selecting the best three designs

Meet the winning designs

Third place winner: Shahbaaz Sayeed

3rd winner Shahbaaz Sayeed and his Khanga design

Shahbaaz’s design visualizes data on gender based violence using data from the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS). The repeating design of three pieces of shattered glass with one piece coated in red, represents the 1 out of 3 women in Tanzania who have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. The women in the center of the design symbolizes the lost hope that can come from being victimized and the tagline “Msinihukumu kwa Kile Nilichofanyiwa-” (“Don’t judge me for what I’ve gone through”) reminds community members that we should not blame women when they are sexually assaulted.

By entering into this competition I realised how I can raise my voice in campaigning against the wrongs in our society by simply translating given data into art. Working with data in creating designs has a whole new meaning to me, it has allowed me to tell more deeper stories that I feel needs to be brought forward in the society.
-Shahbaaz Sayeed

Second Place Winner: Winifrida Touwa

2nd winner Winfrida Touwa and her Khanga design

Winnie’s design also uses data on gender based violence focusing on physical assault using data from the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS). Her image includes three unripe oranges with one being peeled, representing the 1 out of 3 women aged 15–49 in Tanzania who have ever experienced sexual violence. Her khanga tagline saysUsinichume Sijakomaa-I’m not ripe don’t pick me” which sends a message to men to stop assaulting young women because this data shows that, women starts experiencing sexual assault at a very young age.

I have learnt so much from this challenge. It has enabled me to know the importance of data usage in day to day activities and most importantly I was intrigued by the fact that I can also use data in my designs to send a message to my society.
-Winifrida Touwa

First Place Winner: Danford Marco

1st winner Danford Marco and his Khanga design

Danny’s winning design used data on Gender Based Violence among married women which he obtained from the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey. Danny’s replication of two hearts around the border of his design, with one of the hearts colored red, represents the 1 out of 2 married women in Tanzania who have been emotionally, sexually or physically abused by their past or current husbands. Additionally, the figure in the center represents a woman who has lost hope, while the tagline Ukinyamaza Watakuliza-If you keep quiet they will make you cry” sends a message to women who are being abused to report the abuse to authorities because if the violence prevail the woman might end up getting other severe health problems.

Through this competition I’ve got deep understanding on using data to artistically communicate with the society on various social cultural issues facing them.
- Danford Marco

What comes next?

Now that the winners have been announced, TBI and FASDO are preparing for a fashion show to be held in early April which will highlight the excellent work of the ten best designs and promote wider conversations among all those attend on the importance of these critical issues affecting women and families. The winning design will be printed and showcased at the fashion show and in Temeke streets.

TBI and FASDO have also received indication from the youth fashion designers that they have only just begun to use data in their work:

I really loved the training on data. Recently I got a contract to make hotel uniforms(Panone Hotel-Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro) and then I decided to use data. Since this hotel is near tourist attractions I checked for data on what is one of the most visited area and I found it to be the Maasai land. 8 out of 10 tourists who visits this area goes to maasai households. Using this data I incorporated the maasai huts on the uniforms and other household utensils they use in their daily lives.
- John Nkatta, competition participant
Design by one of the participants after data training.