For International Women’s Day 2016, Oxfam and the world-famous Magnum Photos created a unique photography exhibition to celebrate inspiring women from across the globe. The collection of images was created by four leading female Magnum photographers – Olivia Arthur, Cristina García Rodero, Newsha Tavakolian and Bieke Depoorter – who each travelled to a different poor community in one of four countries around the world. In every community, they met women and girls who have been supported by Oxfam. The result is a remarkable collection of stories – and a powerful reminder of women’s unlimited potential to end poverty.
Below is a small selection of stories and images that featured in the exhibition, along with an introduction to the photographers.
Sri Lanka‘s north and eastern provinces have been the most affected by the conflict. Oxfam has been working closely with communities to re-establish agricultural production and empower women – enabling them to improve their status and earning potential.
Sayantha, 35, has two children and is a widow - her husband went missing during the conflict in Sri Lanka. She received a cow from Oxfam to boost the family‘s nutrition and income. Sayantha will soon be president of the new dairy cooperative in Nabatkulam village, Vavuniya district, Sri Lanka.
Everything I do is for my daughters. I want them to grow up and have good jobs. I don‘t want them to go through the things I have been through. I want them to be happy.”
Photographer Olivia Arthur was born in London and grew up in the UK. After working as a photographer in India, Olivia created a series about women and the East-West cultural divide in Italy, taking her to the border between Europe and Asia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Her first book, Jeddah Diary, about young women in Saudi Arabia, was published in 2012.
The tiny town of Ayrum sits on the northern border of Armenia, surrounded by forests, and with an impressive view of neighbouring Georgia. When the Soviet regime collapsed, thousands of people in the area were put out of work and were stripped of state support. With no jobs, people turned to agriculture.
Oxfam has been helping fruit pickers and farmers in Ayrum and neighbouring Lchkadzor to pool their resources, find local and foreign markets and build a fruit processing plant that will be run by the community co-op.
Emma Arzumanyan, 75, with the berries she picked from the forest near her home in Ayrum, a remote community in northern Armenia. Emma is a widow and started picking fruit in the forest to make some money and to have some extra food to eat.
“I started picking fruit to earn money when my husband died. I get a small pension, but I don’t have another income. I live with my daughter in one room. I know that the processing plant will be opening next year and I’m hopeful it will help me with guaranteed sales and fixed prices.”
Photographer Cristina García Rodero was born in Puertollano, Spain. For 16 years she researched and photographed popular and traditional festivities, religious and pagan, across Mediterranean Europe. Cristina has won many prizes, including the Premio Nacional de Fotografía, the Book of the Year Award at the Arles Festival of Photography, and the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Foundation Prize. Cristina joined Magnum in 2005 and became a full member in 2009.
In Rhyl, Northern Wales, 60% of the working age population claim employment benefits due to a number of factors, including a decline in tourism in the area. Rhyl used to be a thriving seaside town packed with holiday makers every summer.
Since 2009 Oxfam has been working with women from marginalised communities in Rhyl, and across Wales, providing ongoing intensive emotional and practical support, including advice on work and finances through one-on-one mentoring and group work. Women involved in the programme are now finding work and rebuilding their lives.
Muriel, 58, is originally from Stoke on Trent but has lived in Rhyl, North Wales, for 16 years. Muriel was searching for work at the Jobcentre in 2012 when she signed up to the Oxfam Livelihoods programme in the Foryd Centre. The programme is run by Kath, who works for a local Oxfam partner. Muriel has now been employed for three years.
“Kath, through the Oxfam project, has helped me out a lot – helped me with my finances and getting my confidence back as it was really, really low. I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t get on with people and I had a short temper. I was unemployed for seven years.”
Photographer Newsha Tavakolian began working in the Iranian press aged 16. She was the youngest photographer to cover the 1999 student uprising, and has covered regional conflicts and natural disasters as well as the war in Iraq. Newsha‘s work has appeared in international magazines and newspapers including Time Magazine, Le Monde and National Geographic, and in museums including the Victoria & Albert and the British Museum. In 2015 she was chosen as the principle laureate of the Prince Claus Award. Newsha became a Magnum nominee in 2015.
Successive droughts in the Bahr el Gazal region have reduced available food and pasture, and poor veterinary care has resulted in rising animal mortality, forcing already vulnerable communities further into poverty. Oxfam is helping farmers, particularly women, in Bahr el Gazal to earn an income through growing vegetables and breeding chickens, so they are better able to cope with droughts.
“It was my vision to start a chicken cooperative. I used to keep chickens in my house, but I couldn‘t rear enough to feed my family and the community. I thought it would be better to get the women together to form a cooperative, so I asked Oxfam for support. When I first suggested the idea the women said “Mariam has gone mad!”But now they see that the project is working. Even people from other communities have come to see it. I am glad that you are here to see it too. We are very focused on our work.”
Photographer Bieke Depoorter travelled through Russia in 2009, staying in people‘s homes for a single night and photographing them for her series, Ou Menya. The series won several prizes, including the Magnum Expression Award, and led to a book in 2011. Bieke joined Magnum as a nominee in July 2012 and became an associate member in 2014.