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How research elevates the voices of women who are marginalised

8th March 2023

To mark International Women's Day, we’ve partnered with Media Planet UK for their Empowering Women & Girls campaign, launching online and published within The Guardian UK.

The focus is on the incredible work individuals are doing to improve global female health, rights and opportunities across all industries, as well as the challenges that remain and action needed for change. Read on to learn more about the research at Northumbria which is making an impact.

Written by Professor Katy Jenkins, Professor of International  Development and Co-Director of Northumbria's Centre for Global Development. With input from colleagues Dr Joanna Allan and Dr Inge Boudewijn.

Capturing and sharing stories of hope and resilience is key to supporting women who aspire to more sustainable and equitable futures.

Northumbria University’s Centre for Global Development works to empower women, as well as to understand and tackle the risks, challenges and marginalisation they face across the global South.

A key element of our research is supporting women impacted by large-scale natural resource extraction to share their perspectives and articulate their ideas for more equitable development to bring greater wellbeing to their communities and families.

Sharing perspectives

In my work, the women themselves often play a key role as researchers. This is true of the RECLAMA project, a collaboration with Universidad de San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador and the Black feminist community arts collective, the Mujeres de Asfalto (Women of Asphalt).

Caption: Participants of the RECLAMA project highlighted food and gastronomy as a key aspect of their cultural heritage to be celebrated.

The project team trained 16 young Afro and Black women as peer researchers to carry out life history interviews to record the knowledge of older women across Esmeraldas province in Ecuador. Thanks to support from the British Academy and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), their work has been exhibited and used to create a permanent community archive of their experiences.

As Dr Inge Boudewijn, the Postdoctoral Researcher on the project, commented: “This work would not be possible without the leadership of inspirational women like Juana Francis Bone, co-founder of Mujeres de Asfalto, who is an activist, politician and author. She is an expert on gender issues and alternative methods for political advocacy and community research and was part of the Civil Society Advisory Group for UN Women.”

Caption: Juana Francis Bone, co-founder of Mujeres de Asfalto

My previous research, supported by The Leverhulme Trust, included a participatory photography project in the north of Peru, with female anti-mining activists.

Many of them had not had the opportunity to use a camera before, so we trained them to share their perspectives through imagery. Taking photos to communicate their hopes and priorities was a meaningful experience for them and something they felt a great responsibility for.

For the women photographers, it was important that their images and narratives travel to places they couldn’t, so an exhibition of their photos was shown in Peru, the UK and Belgium.

Caption: Women participants in the north of Peru captured images of everyday activities such as selling crops in the market, as examples of valued alternatives to large scale resource extraction.

Living with political conflict

My colleague Dr Joanna Allan is researching women’s peaceful resistance to Moroccan occupation in Africa’s last colony, Western Sahara. Her work explores why Saharawi women lead non-violent resistance efforts and why feminist goals should not be separated from the wider Saharawi right to self-determination.

She is working with Saharawi women to explore the role natural resources have played in ongoing political and environmental conflicts in North Africa and Spain, specifically phosphates, which are used as fertiliser in food production around the world.

The Leverhulme Trust recognises the international impact of her work, which focuses on histories of women’s resistance to Spanish colonialism and subsequent military occupation by neighbouring Morocco.

“I work to show how the colonial and occupying societies continue to attempt to reverse the powerful position of women in Saharawi society and explore women’s strategies for resisting this,” she said. “Empowering women in contexts of countries pending decolonisation must involve standing with them in their fight for self-determination.”

Continuing the conversation

Research conducted by talented Postgraduate Researchers is integral to the Centre for Global Development. Their research includes PhD projects in countries such as Chile and Bolivia around the theme of women’s activism and extractivism, often using collaborative and creative approaches.

Each project makes a real difference to the communities at the heart of the research, but there are more stories from inspirational women around the world waiting to be shared and we will continue to elevate their voices.

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