Visualizing Women’s Rights in the Arab World

Between December 5-8,2010, Tactical Technology Collective held a “Visualizing Women’s Rights in the Arab World” workshop.

Tactical Tech is, by their words, “an international NGO that supports rights advocates to use information, communications and digital technologies to maximize the impact of their advocacy work.”

The project gathered 45 women’s rights activists  in Jordan to learn how to create more effective, creative campaigns through info-graphs, data, animation, maps and more.

I did an email interview with the Communications Coordinator, Faith Bosworth, to learn more about the project.

When and how did you decide to create a project that focused on women’s rights and advocacy in the Arab world?

We had this idea in 2009 not long after our Info-Activism Camp which brought together a very large group of designers, techies and activists from all different fields to explore the use of new technologies for advocacy. This had a much broader focus but included the visualisation of information and data as a techniques and there were some smaller participant led sessions on things like animation and mapping. We had the idea to do an event focussed on visualisation alone and we also thought it would be interesting to get a group together who are all working in the same area of advocacy.
While there are examples of visual techniques and tools being used by designers and artists to raise awareness about military conflict and politics in the Arab region (see the project blog for examples) there are very few examples of women’s NGOs using visual techniques to talk about women’s rights. We were keen to bring together women’s groups to expose them to visual skills that can be used tactically in advocacy campaigns. We also felt that issues around gender based violence, honour killings, systemic and institutionalised discrimination against women and the greater visibility of women in public life – all issues that local groups are working on – needed support and could be effectively rendered through visual tools like animation, mapping and information design.

What has the reception been like?

It’s been great. We had about 120 applications to attend the workshop even though we only had 45 spaces. Although there are many capacity-building workshops for NGOs and activists in the Arab world, the response we’ve been getting from participants is that this content is very fresh and the approach to learning at our workshop was quite different to what they’d encountered before. Participants seemed to enjoy the very hands-on nature of the workshop and the fact that it was held in a very remote location in the Jordanian desert where they could really get away from their daily lives, find inspiration and explore creative ideas. Many participants came up with more than one campaign idea in the short space of the workshop.

What unique challenges do you find with stressing visualization in the Arab world, either cultural or religious etc.?

I think the Arab region has a tremendous visual history and culture. The challenges for the evolution of visual culture in general have to do with the contemporary moment when certain standard types of images flood our everyday. For example, there are only certain kinds of female beauty that we find everywhere around us in the service of consumerism. However, as our visual rights blog shows, there are examples of designers and activists using visualisations to raise awareness on various issues. What we have been trying to do through this project, and which perhaps is more challenging, is the use of data to create visualisations that can be used in campaigns. Accessing data in a campaign, knowing what kinds of information to use, and then arriving at creative expressions of that data and using these in advocacy and to make interesting, funny, satirical, hard-hitting statements about issues are perhaps less common here. Through the December workshop we hoped to introduce participants to this process.

What are some projects that Tactical Tech plans on promoting/funding either from the women’s rights workshop or in general?

We are going to be supporting 10 campaigns which emerged from the workshop. Many of the participants at the workshop came with campaign ideas already or developed them over the time we were at the workshop. All the participants have been invited to apply for a micro-grant from us to support their campaign and a selection process for the final 10 will be taking place over the next month. This provides an opportunity for the participants who have a strong campaign idea to pursue it and implement the campaign. The money will enable them to hire someone else such as a designer, animator or website programmer to do the things they might not be able to do themselves. This way we hope that some good ideas will turn into some great projects.

What’s the most important part of creating a successful, inspirational campaign that promotes change?

Having a clear and well thought-out strategy as a starting point. With the prevalence of new communication tools available on the internet today, anyone can start a campaign about any cause but this will usually not go very far if it is not backed by a clear idea of what it aims to achieve and who its speaking to. Campaigners need to know their audience, how they find information, and what propels them to think or act. For a campaign to work, it needs to communicate in the clearest and most appropriate way for the target audience.

As someone who is more friends with words than numbers, I realize that lots of black on a page can be daunting for people and turn them away from reading about a crucial issue. People like visuals, colors, pictures, videos, movement etc. so it was so interesting to hear from Faith about how to create an effective campaign to make change.

One of the examples Tactical Tech posted was an Amnesty International poster.

The fragile elegance of the rose and the cruel tension of the thread on the petals makes for a more chilling reaction to the concept of FGM (or female genital cutting, depending on what side of the issue you are on, you’ll prefer one connotation over the other.)

This innovative project allows such important messages like FGM, gender-based violence sexual harassment, employment discrimination and more to be strategically communicated and reach a wider audience in a more inviting manner, especially in a more traditional, religiously conservative region.

I’m interested to see what positive results and attention can be given to the conflicts identified by the activists in their funded campaigns.

Just because you didn’t get invited to the workshop doesn’t mean you can’t get involved and learn how to use information design to better help your advocacy work. Check out their toolkits and guides as well.

With International Women’s Month coming up, who knows what inspiring campaigns people will think of next?

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