Behind the scenes of our Women by Women exhibition | ActionAid UK

On Wednesday 4th March, the Oxo Tower’s gallery space on London’s South Bank was transformed into ActionAid’s first Women by Women photography exhibition.

Our Women by Women exhibition celebrated inspirational stories of women and girls.
Our Women by Women exhibition celebrated inspirational stories of women and girls.

To mark International Women’s Day 2020, the Women by Women exhibition celebrated female trailblazers working in some of the world’s toughest places and shone a spotlight on inspiring women both in front of and behind the lens.

What is the Women by Women campaign?

Women by Women is a unique photographic campaign that champions the inspirational stories of women and girls, as well as the incredible talent of women photographers in the countries ActionAid works. Since the launch of the campaign in April 2019, we have partnered with six women photographers in Afghanistan, Guatemala, Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The photographers’ brief was to document the everyday realities of women and girls living in their local communities – and the resulting pictures are extraordinary.

From midwife Margaret, who helps vulnerable girls find shelter in Kampala, to Guguleth, a courageous HIV campaigner in South Africa, the unique photos commissioned for Women by Women shatter stereotypes and bring a different perspective to the way women and girls living in poverty are represented.

Margaret is a nurse in Kampala, Uganda. She has been a midwife for 35 years and has worked with ActionAid since 2013 as a gender-based violence focal person at the hospital.

One of these women was Tahmina Saleem, who photographed street artist Shamsia Hassani in Kabul, Afghanistan. Both Tahmina and Shamsia face opposition in their lines of work; Shamsia when spray-painting her murals and Tahmina when taking photographs.

Being a woman photographer is a very big challenge in Afghanistan. If men see you with a camera, they are shocked; they think ‘how can a woman be doing photography?’ I feel very honoured to be part of such an amazing photo exhibition with women artists from around the world.” Tahmina Saleem

Shamsia is an Afghan street artist, a fine arts lecturer and professor of sculpture at Kabul University.

What happened at the exhibition?

On Wednesday March 4, the Oxo Tower’s gallery space on London’s South Bank was transformed into ActionAid’s first Women by Women photography exhibition, which was open to the public between March 5-8. The exhibition celebrated International Women’s Day 2020, showcasing inspirational women both in front of and behind the lens.

Chaired by Srabani Sen OBE, the founder of Full Colour – a business committed to developing the next generation of BAME leaders – our panel event debated some controversial questions around the visual portrayal of Africa by NGOs and the lack of photos taken by women photographers which are published by the media.

The panel included Fiona Shields, the Guardian’s Head of Photography, Bette Lynch, founder of twentynine agency and visual consultant on the Women by Women campaign, Taahra Ghazi, ActionAid’s Deputy Director of Communications, and Ugandan Women by Women photographer Esther Mbabazi.

(L-R) Panellists Bette Lynch, Fiona Shields, Taahra Ghazi, Srabani Sen, and Esther Mbabazi at the launch night for ActionAid UK's Women by Women photography exhibition.

Alongside the journalists, creatives, NGO staff and photographers, we welcomed Department for International Development (DFID) minister Baroness Liz Sugg, who recently became the UK’s first ever Special Envoy for Girls’ Education.

Baroness Sugg, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, and photographer Esther Mbabazi at the launch night for the Women by Women exhibition.

It was brilliant to see the exhibition and meet the people who have put together such compelling work. The photos show the challenges we face, but also the opportunities we have if we invest in women and girls around the world.” Baroness Liz Sugg

We also welcomed Sex Education actor James Purefoy, who is an ActionAid ambassador.

We were thrilled that more than 1,000 members of the public came to see the Women by Women exhibition.

Next step for the Women by Women campaign

Women by Women marks a change in ActionAid’s storytelling. We are shifting the power of the storyteller to women photographers who live and work in the countries where they are commissioned.

For a very long time, society has predominantly viewed the world through the experience and lens of male photographers. Through campaigns like Women by Women, we are committed to changing that.

Find out more about the Women by Women campaign

Footnotes