12 extraordinary stories of women remodelling their role in society

Project: Food4 — Winner of IDR grant 2015. Photo Credit: Giada Connestari

Awareness about gender equality is now more universal and familiar than ever before. Yet much of the media coverage of the fight for gender balance often focuses on the struggles and challenges women face, and not the opportunities arising from them.

Against this backdrop, 12 projects recently awarded in the last round of the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant will tell empowering and under-reported stories of how women are transforming their contribution to society around the globe: be it by thriving at their jobs, fighting deep-rooted traditions or turning their disabilities into skills.

Project: Dangerous Abortion — Winner of IDR grant 2017. Photo Credit: Tara Todras-Whitehill/European Journalism Centre/Pola

This is a sneak peak of what’s in the making:

Opportunities and struggles in the South Asian film industries

Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world, and Pakistan’s Lollywood and Bangladesh’s Dhallywood are hugely influential regionally. Bolly Lolly Dhally: Women in South Asian film will platform the voices of these women so the world can learn more about their unique struggles and resistance against patriarchy.

“Since the most popular media narratives have centred around Hollywood”, says project lead Sophie Hemery, “we want to take this momentum and apply it to contexts in the Global South”. By doing so, they hope to provide “a truly compelling feminist lens to the mainstream about women’s safety and rights, engage new audiences, change perspectives and centre the voices of those too-often erased”, she adds.

Breaking taboos around infertility issues

While thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa are affected by infertility, it is yet perceived to be a ‘Western’ problem. The project “Angels” will show how West African campaigners and doctors are determined to shatter taboos around infertility, offering women opportunities for treatment and support.

“I hope to turn stereotypes on their head and give a voice to women (in Senegal), where infertility is a taboo subject”, says project lead Jane Labous. Unlike news stories viewing African issues through a clichéd lens of conflict and poverty, this story shows “it doesn’t matter where you live, or how much money you have, infertility can affect anyone, anywhere”, she stresses.

Redefining women’s sexuality in Africa

As project lead Eliza Anyangwe puts it, “generally, the topic of African women’s sexuality as something that is empowering and should be part of sexual and reproductive health programmes is under-reported in the mainstream media”.

Not yet satisfied: Africa’s young women fighting for a sex-positive future will cast a spotlight on the pioneering young African women who are demanding bodily autonomy and using digital technology to redefine sexual and reproductive health”.

The project will portray African women as agents of change and as diverse. “You will see and hear them in greater diversity (straight, gay, trans) than European media is used to,” adds Eliza.

Fighting marriage as a means to self-empowerment

In many African countries women that become widows without having any male descendants risk losing everything they own in favour of another man from their husband’s family. As such, For the love of land will reveal how some of these women subvert the norms that traditionally oppress them in order to fight for their own advancement and economic independence.

“Mainstream media often focus on the negative aspects of a story,” comments project lead Marta Martínez, “while we want to show European audiences that there are some really inspiring and hopeful stories to tell from developing countries as well,” she says.

Achieving greater gender balance in peacekeeping operations

“What got us hooked on the story was just being puzzled about all the research that’s out there that shows how effective women peacekeepers are, but how few are still deployed worldwide,” says project co-author Ben Moran.

Wonder Women: Female Peacekeepers Fighting to Fix a Broken System will examine the unique opportunities female peacekeepers provide as role models and soldiers, told through the stories of female peacekeepers in the DR Congo. Through strong personal stories “we want to show how our characters are leading by example as role models and thereby paving the way for the change,” adds Ben.

Feeding back into Africa’s development

How does the international mobility of African women scholars and technologists translate into the development of this continent? This is ultimately what African women scientists on the move aim to unveil. “We want to tell stories of women that are taking advantage of the education and the opportunities they encountered in Europe,” explains project lead Michele Catanzaro. “These women feel they can make a difference because they know better than anyone else what is needed and what they can bring in from their scientific and personal background,” he adds.

This project will portray strong and capable African women scientists that don’t want to leave the societies they were born in, but wish to help to construct better conditions for the people around them instead.

Project: Poisoned Lives — Winner of IDR grant 2015 — Photo Credit: Desirée Garcia

Exploring access to safe abortion

Abortion access in crisis and conflict zones will examine the barriers to abortion for rape survivors in crisis and conflict, while also reporting on how the option to end a pregnancy can open the door to a future of opportunity for these women.

This topic “is one that has not yet been covered in significant depth, and certainly not with the kind of intensive look at individual women’s lives we plan to bring to the story,” say authors Jill Filipovic & Nichole Sobecki.

“We are ultimately seeking a deeper understanding of how this basic right to determine when and whether to have children is particularly salient to women who have already faced significant struggle,” they add.

Artisanal mining as a way to emancipation

In the DR Congo, where gender-based violence and exploitation are among the highest worldwide, women are challenging the discriminatory practices in the artisanal mining sector by self-organising and assuming leading positions in their communities.

“Shaping a new narrative: how artisanal mining has become the unexpected driver of Congolese women’s emancipation” aims to portray “how being part of a strong network have pushed Congolese women to fill leading positions within their communities too”, says project lead Eleonora Vio. “I hope that I’ll be able to tie up some strong and sincere relationships with the local women, and that we’ll both benefit from giving this story the widest possible visibility, she adds.

Trans women educators remodelling the education system

What does it feels like to be a transgender woman educator in South America? How can transgender women educators break a cycle of historical exclusion? How can they open doors to the next generations of trans people on education?

These are some of the questions that Education in Transition will try to shed a light on. “Despite transgender people having achieved unprecedented media visibility, they remain invisible, especially in the schools environment”, comments project lead Vanessa De Sa. “This project aims to give them a voice and encourage schools to open to difference”, she continues.

Breaking barriers through a disability

Putting a big emphasis on the use of the sound, A light in darkness will show visually impaired women who are turning their disability into an extraordinary skill through music, education, self-empowerment and medical care.

“The voices of the featured women are a personal, sensitive and powerful instrument for telling their own stories,” explains project lead Elena del Estal. “So we will build an atmosphere of voices and sounds to engage the audience with their reality”. This project aims to show the audience “how these supportive groups and networks of blind women around the world are created and how they are building opportunities by and for themselves,” she adds.

Tackling the risks of birth and motherhood

Birthright: Tackling the Fatal Cost of Motherhood will explore how women experience the risks of birth and how the opportunities arising from female-driven efforts are bringing about progress that’s saving mothers’ lives.

Project lead Emma Bryce explains that she will move away from the dominant way of telling stories about women and their reproductive rights and instead she will “focus on progress and advancements at the hands of them”. “I hope to bring some attention to an issue that doesn’t get a lot of coverage: the risks of motherhood,” Emma stresses, “we treat childbirth as such a natural and inevitable rite of passage for women that I think we forget the enormous risks it can entail”.

Indonesian women fighting for their rights

Indonesian Women: rising from oppression will follow seven incredible women who are leading movements in their fight for their rights in different fields of society.

“We will create an interactive mobile first series about the most underreported and remote initiatives supporting women in our country”, explains project lead Sadika Hamid. Instead of portraying these women as “humble victims”, they will be reported on as “potential leaders of Indonesia”, she adds.

Their coverage will include a programme to help women as heads of their households in Sumatra; an association for farmer-women in Central Java or a network supporting women victims of domestic violence in Papua and Maluku.

Project: When Women Rule — Winner of IDR grant 2017. Photo Credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Himanshu Sharma

For more detailed specifics on the aforementioned projects, please visit the news section of the Journalism Grants website.

The Innovation in Development Reporting Reporting Grant is a media-funding programme operated by the European Journalism Centre that aims to enable an out-of-the-box coverage of international development issues. It is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.