Strength and Empowerment Collages   

February 22, 2019

We’ve been working with the girls for the past two weeks now and have started to engage them in discussions about women and how they are represented in society.  We’ve had the chance to do several arts activities with them on this subject as well.  The collage activity, “Strength and Empowerment Collage” was an opportunity to hear from the girls about how they want to see women represented.  Provided with magazines sourced from here in Goma, and some National Geographic magazines as well, the girls were invited to “select images, objects, or actions that mean strength of women to you” and create a collage. The purpose of this activity is to begin to define personal visualizations of strength and empowerment.Each had the chance to share what these images meant to them in a presentation. The discussion opened-up a rich conversation about how these girls see themselves and other women. A way to reflect what they think.      

I expected that they would only select images that corresponded to women in a position of strength, but most of the collages were in fact a big mix of the duties and the rights of women.  In some, the girls portrayed women working in powerful positions, or male dominated jobs, such as park rangers, the military, or as doctors.  Several pointed out the immense strength that women have to give birth and that this is something men wouldn’t be able to endure.   

There were photos of women with confident postures, and several in which the women were described as “looking into the future.” One girl explained that women often are exploited or behind, and so for this reason they need plan and strategize so that they can get ahead in life. 

Other images chosen described the duties of women.  “A woman need be clean and make sure her children are clean.”  “A woman should always smile and not be frustrated.” “A woman should always be ready to host guests and feed them.”  In relationships, “a woman must always be able to create harmony, even if her husband comes home drunk and unhappy.”  “A woman must be submissive to her husband at all times.” 

It struck me that even in creating a collage about the strength of women, her duties, the enormous amount of work that she is expected to do is also communicated.  I had expected that all the images would speak about the rights of women, but I had assumed wrong.  

In response, my assistants and I discussed with the participants the difference between rights and duties. What are women expected to do vs. what women should be able to do?  The girls understood this distinction well.  My guess is that while they know the difference, it becomes complicated to ask them to represent women detached from her duties as they are so ever present in their lives.

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