PhotoVoice is a school-based project that trains learners to use photography and writing to chronicle their daily lives, provides a look at the community through its children’s eyes.

With support from UNICEF, Sonke has been working in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape since late 2006 to promote greater involvement by men in meeting the needs of children affected by HIV and AIDS. Alongside community education and capacity building for local partners, Sonke has used PhotoVoice to help children convey their experiences, needs and aspirations and to mobilize adults — and especially men — to meet their needs.

PhotoVoice’s Aims

The PhotoVoice Project aims to:

  • Increase the health and safety of participants by increasing their awareness about gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.
  • Challenge men in the community, especially traditional and religious leaders, to change attitudes and practices related to gender and HIV/AIDS leading to increased child protection and care.
  • Equip participants with basic photography knowledge and practical skills. Build confidence and self-esteem through gaining new skills.
  • Develop a sense of agency through training children to become authors of their own stories and experiences.
  • Foster leadership skills through enrolling students in peer educator programs at their respective schools.

What are the issues?

In South Africa, gender inequality and HIV/AIDS continue to impede youth and child development in dramatic ways. All too often gender roles and expectations condone male violence against women and girls, grant young and adult men the power to initiate and dictate the terms of sex, and make it extremely difficult for women and girls to protect themselves from either HIV or violence.

Hence, men have a critical role to play in meeting the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. As of 2002, “55% of rural African children had absent fathers” and “a further 12.5% had fathers who were deceased”. AIDS has added an enormous strain to this already fragile situation and heightened children’s vulnerability to illness, malnutrition, abuse and neglect. This, in turn, has made the involvement of men in the lives of children all the more urgent.

But it is not only as fathers and members of the extended family that men have a crucial role to play in the lives of children. Men still make up the majority of community leaders, including local government officials, traditional, and religious leaders, and as such wield power and control resources in rural South Africa thus placing them in a unique position to protect children from violence, and ensure that they access existing protection and welfare mechanisms and services.

Engaging the Community through PhotoVoice

Sonke has used the PhotoVoice process as both a research tool and as a way of generating educational materials to support and reinforce its work with men in these areas. A review and analysis of the children’s photographs and writings from both communities reveal that child safety, gender, and poor service delivery — especially issues related to litter, sanitation and running water — are common themes.

To date, the PhotoVoice project has worked well to expose communities to the issues of its children and has increased the visibility of children throughout these areas. In doing so, PhotoVoice has created opportunities for dialogue about the daily challenges of children. It is through these conversations that social norms are shifted and communities move into action.