Category Archives: Photo Features

#MyDressMyChoice: The day we defeated silence

In Nairobi, Kenya, women are demanding respect.

They want to re-claim their bodies.

They are condemning the humiliating public stripping of three Kenyan women earlier in the month.

On this day, 17th November, 2014, many took to Nairobi streets – and marched from Uhuru Park (in the city’s CBD ) to the Embassava Sacco bus stage on Accra Road, where a mob had been filmed ripping off a woman’s clothes.

In the last one year, ten women have been stripped in public, for something that was described as ‘indecent’ dressing.

The mobilisation for the protest started through social media under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice

Brian took photos. Ngala wrote.

This photo-essay is a narrative of the protest.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi.  This is about 12:30 PM.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi. This is about 12:30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

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Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

One woman, a counter-protestor, invokes culture and religion, demanding that women dress decently. This is about 2: 10 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

 

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2: 50 PM.

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2:50PM.

This day silence we defeated.

This day silence we defeated.

#MyDressMyChoice Silence shall no longer be a woman.

 

There is an online petition calling on the President of Kenya to take action. Click here to add your voice.

 

This piece is the first in a multi-part series on Routes about patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Brian Inganga is an award-winning photographer and humanitarian worker. Brian is also the co-founder of Change Mtaani CBO in Kibera Slums, Nairobi, and he works at PAWA 254.

 

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Sex Workers in Kolkata Celebrate Durga Puja

Until last year, Kolkata’s sex workers were prevented from joining in with the city’s elaborate celebrations for Durga Puja – the most anticipated Hindu festival in the Bengali calendar. This photo-essay showcases snapshots from a sindurkhela (literally: ‘playing with vermillion’) organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) in the heart of Kolkata’s largest red-light district as part of this year’s Puja celebrations.

Community members and visitors admire the beautifully adorned pandal.

Community members and visitors admire the beautifully adorned pandal.

In Hinduism, Goddess Durga represents the embodiment of shakti, the divine feminine force that governs cosmic creation, existence and change. It is held that Durga emerged from the collective energies of all of the gods – including Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma – to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. Durga Puja (‘Pujo’ in Bengali) is the celebration of Durga’s annual visit to earth – understood to be her natal home – which takes place in September or October. During this time, communities around West Bengal construct elaborate pandals – temporary temples made from bamboo and cloth – to house clay idols depicting Durga slaying Mahishasura. The idols are worshipped for a number of days before being carried to the river Ganga for immersion.

Historically, the social stigma surrounding sex work meant that sex workers were prohibited by police and community members from taking part in Kolkata’s famous Puja celebrations, despite the long-standing tradition that involves collecting clay from the doorstep of sex workers to use in the making of idols (the clay is thought to symbolise men’s virtue). However, after tireless campaigning by the DMSC – Kolkata’s first and largest sex workers’ collective – in 2013 the Calcutta High Court ruled that sex workers would be permitted to organise their own community Puja in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s main red-light area.

Women from the community prepare Durga for her onward journey.

Women from the community prepare Durga for her onward journey.

This year’s Puja – organised by the DMSC – was a four-day affair starting on the 1st of October and ending with a sindurkhela ritual on the 4th. During sindurkhela, women smear each other’s faces with vermillion – a red-coloured power typically used to mark the foreheads of (‘respectable’) married women; the ritual signifies Durga’s impending farewell from earth and her natal family. In Sonagachi, however, people of all ages and backgrounds joined in the fun, smearing each other’s cheeks and foreheads in a statement of solidarity and hope for a fairer and safer future for sex workers.

Next year, sex workers in Sonagachi will organise an even bigger Puja celebration. At the opening ceremony, Dr. Sashi Panja, State minister for Women and Child Development, pledged that efforts would be made to help DMSC organisers put together an especially large celebrationfor future Pujas.

However, while sex workers in Sonagachi this year celebrated, others across West Bengal – including in areas such as Kalighat, Boubazar in north Kolkata, Seoraphuli in Hooghly district and Durgapur in Burdwan district – were left disappointed after police refused them permission to host their own community Pujas. News of this decision came just days before the celebrations were set to commence, leaving organisers extremely frustrated. These communities will now have to apply for permission from either the Calcutta High Court or Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee before making plans to take part in next year’s Puja.

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Women cover Durga with flower garlands and offer her sweets.

Dr. Smarajit Jana of the DMSC explained that the police decision to bar sex workers from celebrating (with the exception of those residing in Sonagachi) marked a huge setback for the sex workers’ rights movement in India, and that while rejoicing in this year’s Puja organised by the DMSC, the fight very much continues.

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Women prepare to bid a tearful adieu to Durga.

Established in the early 1990s, the DMSC today comprises some 65,000 sex worker members across West Bengal. It campaigns regionally, nationally and internationally for sex workers’ rights, but is best known for its HIV prevention work – particularly, the Sonagachi Project which uses a community development approach aimed at empowering sex workers.

During sindurkhela, women smear each other’s faces with vermillion – a red-coloured power typically used to mark the foreheads of (‘respectable’) married women; the ritual signifies Durga’s impending farewell from earth and her natal family.

During sindurkhela, women smear each other’s faces with vermillion – a red-coloured power typically used to mark the foreheads of (‘respectable’) married women; the ritual signifies Durga’s impending farewell from earth and her natal family.

The reverberating beats of the dhak (drum) are an important part of Puja celebrations. The dhak is a huge drum that is played during Puja and is sometimes embellished with long white or multi-coloured feathers.

The reverberating beats of the dhak (drum) are an important part of Puja celebrations. The dhak is a huge drum that is played during Puja and is sometimes embellished with long white or multi-coloured feathers.

Women dance in front of Durga to the beats of the dhak.

Women dance in front of Durga to the beats of the dhak.

A sweet-smelling, white smoke wafts through the air as women dance. The smoke comes from earthen pots called dhunochis, which are carried by women as they dance. Burning coconut shells are placed inside the pots along with powdered incense, known as dhuno, to create the smoke.

A sweet-smelling, white smoke wafts through the air as women dance. The smoke comes from earthen pots called dhunochis, which are carried by women as they dance. Burning coconut shells are placed inside the pots along with powdered incense, known as dhuno, to create the smoke.

Dhunochi dancers balance the dhunochis with the base placed on their palms, between their teeth or on their foreheads. They then swirl their bodies to the drum beats while carrying the burning dhunochis.

Dhunochi dancers balance the dhunochis with the base placed on their palms, between their teeth or on their foreheads. They then swirl their bodies to the drum beats while carrying the burning dhunochis.

This photo-essay was created by Mirna Guha and Lauren Wilks.

Mirna Guha was born and brought up in Kolkata, India, and graduated from Jadavpur University with a Master’s degree in English Literature and Language in 2010. She has worked with young people on issues of sexual violence and gender equality across South Asia and is now pursuing a PhD in the School for International Development at the University of East Anglia, UK. She is currently in Kolkata conducting fieldwork with rural and socio-economically marginalised women, particularly sex workers. Her research interests include migration, social development and human rights. M.Guha@uea.ac.uk

Lauren Wilks is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on the experiences of commuting women domestic workers in West Bengal, India, and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Previously, she was a Student Fellow with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
L.Wilks@sms.ed.ac.uk