Thursday, June 24, 2010

Article about WAVE on, a development communications website

Young Indian Women Ride WAVE to Free Expression

By Paromita Pain

17 May 2010

Mumbai-based activists Angana Jhaveri and Sapna Shahani wanted to use media to help empower young Indian women. Brainstorming with Madhusudan Agarwal, director of social change media house Mam Movies, the pair drew inspiration from the "She Creates" project. Mam had trained 25 Mumbai girls in filmmaking techniques and had them make short films on the theme, "What it feels to be a girl."

The result was Women Aloud: Video blogging for Empowerment (WAVE), a nationwide project that last year became the first winner in India of the Digital Media and Learning competition run by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. Armed with a $107,000 grant, Jhaveri and Shahani have convened women from every corner of the country to learn about video blogging techniques and create content on social and personal subjects.

Digital Expression

The WAVE founders describe their project as a “digital platform for young Indian women to voice their perspectives on issues that matter through video blogs”. They aim to share compelling videos that start conversations and build bridges to enable the exchange of novel solutions. Video blogging is a means to talk without censorship, where the camera is allowed to show a reality most corporate news channels miss.

A first batch of 25 project participants launched their video blogs at the end of January 2010. Nearly 50 women so far have gone through WAVE's 11-day training sessions on ideating, scripting, camerawork, editing, animation and other details of the process. The participants' strongest motivation was to create a greater and more sensitive understanding of the issues they and their communities have to deal with, very often on a daily basis.

“We introduced the trainees to the fields of development and gender, women and media, community media and the online forum of video blogging, then the filmmaking areas of production related activities," said Angana. "We also dwelt on the art of storytelling and the different genres like animation, and finally brought the training to a close with a discussion on sustainability in the future." Some 30 women who make videos regularly get mentored by WAVE for a nine month term.

The young producers have shot a diverse mix of films, with subjects ranging from education to floods to sexual health, to more narrow topics such as the festivities and politics surrounding a typical wedding. Some are artistically oriented, such as one about the art of Kolams, or sand paintings, in Tamil Nadu.

Anandi, a community health supervisor, shares her experiences of working in the remote areas of Uttarakhand in northern India. She is hoping to make more women aware of their health rights. Usha Dewani, who lives in Guwahati in eastern India, discovered the joys of grassroots comic strips in a workshop, and she used video blogging to tell more people about how such strips can help articulate their needs. Lebul Nissa, who grew up in Srinagar in conflict-prone Jammu and Kashmir, told about her life there and how she learned the word "curfew" before she learned the word "picnic." Moushumi Basu, from heavily industrial Ranchi in the Northeast, weaves a story of tribal exploitation, uranium radiation and superstition.

Gauging Impact

While the impact is yet to be measured in quantifiable terms, participants are encouraged to show their work to selected audiences. “I think we're just beginning to see the impact in a small way because we're so new," said Angana. "The congratulatory comments on the movies are encouraging. The videos have been shown by some of the girls in their communities, and for their work. We've been asked to make DVDs for them to screen to larger audiences. Sulochana from Goa, who works on health awareness for an NGO, just made a great video about cultural perspectives to menstruation which she plans to use in her awareness programs,” Angana added.

“We hope this new video material from areas as far as Aizawl and Trivandrum will not only inspire action within the community, but also engage individuals and organizations working towards development. [as well as] academics, researchers, and social investors,” says Angana. That’s why the WAVE team were keen to work with college-graduate age woman who could also be mentored as citizen journalist video bloggers.

Some of the blogs deal with serious issues. “An eye opener moment was Moushumi Basu’s video about a village murdering a family accused of witchcraft. It struck me that her journalism instincts translated so well into video and that we would be seeing many more fascinating stories if journalists around India had video cameras, rather than the mostly [whitewashed] stories you see on television networks,” says Sapna.

Another favorite video on the site is Sakshi Saini's profile video where she narrates the gossip that went around during her marriage in Delhi. Dwelling on society and social issues needn’t always be serious!

Some of the women trained through WAVE have been offered jobs to produce videos. Not all of the women who come in for training are comfortable with the equipment. “Yes, some women do struggle with technology and gadgets like cameras, which I think is mostly because of a lack of accessible training. We've created a video production guide we call a 'toolkit' which is available to download free of charge on our website's 'learning' area”, explained Sapna.

Paromita Pain is a senior reporter and sub editor working on the Young World and Nxg youth supplements of the Sunday edition. She is currently residing in Austin, Texas.

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