Storytelling: SpeakUP: Young Women Share Stories of Identity, Gender and Violence
“I want to make sure that my voice is heard – and not just my voice, but thousands of women out there. So for me, I was crying out loud for those women, and I stood up for them so that we can make sure their voices are heard – my voice is heard. That means that the next generation of young women, their voices will also be heard.” — Grassroot Soccer storyteller
Traditional patriarchal and cultural norms in South Africa, coupled with the legacy of the systemic, state-sanctioned violence of Apartheid over generations, has fueled a society with one of the world’s highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence against adolescent girls and young women. Grassroot Soccer leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilise South African youth to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. The organisation works with young adult mentors to incorporate sport in dynamic, interactive lessons that provide a safe space for engaging adolescents, deconstructing harmful gender norms, preventing violence, and encouraging participants to seek sexual and reproductive health services.
In March 2016, I partnered with Silence Speaks and Grassroot Soccer in Cape Town, to lead a five-day storytelling and participatory media workshop with an amazing group of female mentors. The project was framed as an exploratory study of whether the act of creating and sharing digital stories can foster digital literacy, self-awareness, reflection and mutual support among young women. With support from the Ford Foundation, we brought participants together for a group Story Circle; guided them through the process of writing and recording short scripts; and taught them the basics of photography, videography, and visual ethics. Next, we coordinated a location photo and video shoot to support participants in documenting their stories, and guided them through computer tutorials that enabled them to edit their stories as short videos.
Study findings confirm that a thoughtfully planned and facilitated digital storytelling workshop can be an effective tool for both individual and social change. Participants reported increases in knowledge about themselves and their technical abilities, improved attitudes in the areas of strength, voice and leadership, and more open, substantive and supportive communication with their peers. Most notable was the seed of intention towards social change that surfaced amongst the storytellers, expressed as the realisation that when a woman desires change in her own life, she must therefore also seek to effect change in her surroundings.
The young women’s stories touch on overcoming gender-bias in sport, surviving gender-based violence, and the resilience it takes to thrive in spite of deeply entrenched structural obstacles to staying healthy. The stories are shared at conferences and other events focussed on gender, sport, and health, and the storytellers are working with Grassroot Soccer to coordinate and lead community-based story screenings and story sharing sessions, as a way of bringing visibility to young women’s voices and creating safe spaces for their peers to respond and join the call for women’s rights across South Africa.