What is a woman’s worth in Africa? What issues does she face daily? What joy has she experienced? What pain and suffering has she endured? A groundbreaking campaign and an anonymous guerrilla artist are committed to bringing their stories to our attention.

A disturbing report released today (24th May 2012) by the International Rescue Committee, shows that women in post-conflict West Africa continue to suffer violence at alarming levels and with shocking frequency, but the primary threat to their safety is not strangers or men with guns; it’s their husbands.

Let Me Not Die Before My Time: Domestic Violence in West Africa,” describes domestic violence in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone as an acute and pervasive problem that endangers, isolates and disenfranchises countless women and hinders recovery and development in their communities.

The sad fact is that violence against women in Africa is not just isolated to West Africa.

Violence against women and girls remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations and is prevalent across Africa. Yet it is one of the least prosecuted crimes; impunity is still the norm, rather than the exception. It is estimated that between 13% and 45% of women suffer assault by intimate partners during their lifetimes in Africa. Recent studies show that up to 47% of girls in primary or secondary school report sexual abuse or harassment from male teachers or classmates. 3 million girls in Africa are annually at risk of female genital mutilation. Evidence abounds on the effects of conflict and how rape has been used systematically as a weapon of war in many African conflicts.*

The issue is endemic accross Africa and seems hopless, if it were not for the efforts of thousands of volunteers and activists bringing awareness and action to this matter.

In January 2010, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the Chairperson of the African Union, Jean Ping, launched the Africa UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls across Africa.

UNiTE brings together a host of UN agencies and offices to galvanize action across the UN system to prevent and punish violence against women.

Through UNiTE, the UN is joining forces with individuals, civil society and governments to put an end to violence against women in all its forms.

In March 2012, the Africa UNiTE Secretariat with the support of UNFCU, Kilimanjaro Initiative, among others, organized a climb to Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, involving 74 climbers representing 36 African countries. The key result of the climb were specific commitments to action by African governments, civil society actors, media, private sector and the individual climbers to end violence against women and girls in the coming years until 2015, in line with the Africa UNiTE expected outcomes.

The ultimate goal of Africa UNiTE is to mobilize and support governments in fulfilling their commitments to end violence against women and girls. In addition to the five global expected outcomes, the Africa UNiTE Campaign seeks to ensure safe public spaces for women and girls in all African countries by 2015.

In a alternative, yet creative approach to the seriousness of violence against women, one artist working in the shadows has documented the pain, joy and dignity of Africa’s  struggling and victimised women in a unique project ‘Women are heroes’.

Guerrilla street artist and photographer, JR, traveled to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Kenya to seek out women struggling in their everyday lives and, in his words, “to take their stories around the world.”

Spending months at a time in neighborhoods, slums and villages in Africa, JR photographed the women living there and learnt their stories — and then pasted his striking images onto massive local canvases: buildings, buses, roads and bridges to shed light on the women and the issues he encountered.

With his images and videos, JR’s innovative, collaborative storytelling technique unlocks the power of possibility for these women,who reveal their true selves on camera, shedding tears as they recount rape and death, then smiling as they express their joy at being alive.

His photographs of the vast outdoor “exhibitions” that he creates are iconic images celebrating the worth of the individual. A beautifully illustrated account of this remarkable project, Women Are Heroes introduces JR’s thrilling imagery of the modern landscape filled with human faces, and also includes his original photographic portraits paired with interviews in which the women share their lives and dreams.

Women are Heroes – the book, is available at Abram Publishers: http://www.abramsbooks.com/Books/Women_Are_Heroes-9781419703331.html

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Sources:

* Statistics from the UN Secretary General’s “Africa unite to end violence against women” campaign - http://www.africaunitecampaign.org/

Report: ‘Domestic Violence Primary Threat to Women in Post-War West Africa’,  Media release: 2012 International Rescue Committee.

All photography on this post is from the ‘Women are Heroes’ series by artist JR.

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