Jul 26 2012

Girls, with Cameras and Computers, on the Road to a Better Life

>>EDITOR'S NOTE: On 9/13/2012 CeaseFire changed its name to Cure Violence.

Mandisa Madikane, a 20-year old, HIV-positive, newly minted journalist from Soweto, South Africa, was the star at a high-wattage Washington D.C. event Wednesday night hosted by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief in conjunction with the 2012 AIDS International Conference meeting this week. Her co-panelists, who spoke about empowering women to protect them from rape, poverty, discrimination and humiliation included Tom Frieden, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control; Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues. Discussion was helped by a video, “Mandisa’s Story,” aired at the event. Directed by the young journalist, it tells the story of her rape by a neighbor at age six, which is how Mandisa contracted HIV.

Mandisa is one of three HIV-positive young women from South Africa covering the AIDS conference who received their journalism training through GlobalGirl Media (GGM), a non-profit that teaches teenage girls from disadvantaged communities around the world, including the U.S., to become citizen-journalists. Launched in 2010 by a group of women broadcasters and journalists, GGM teaches girls to use print, video and electronic media to tell their stories in order to build their self-esteem and champion the role of girls throughout the world. The project currently has bureaus in South Africa, Morocco, Los Angeles and one opened just this month in Chicago. “The girls who train with GGM are a family, and we all have important stories to tell,” said Evelyn Mokele, one of the South Africa journalists in Washington this week. “When I found out I was HIV positive, I almost gave up on everything. But instead of letting my status be a death-sentence, I used it as a tool to find my voice.”

Therese Steiner, the founder of GlobalGirl Media and a former deputy director of production at the Public Broadcasting Station in New York City, says the project grew out of a recognition by women broadcasters and journalists that news coverage often focuses on flash points of violence, celebrity or disaster, “while the everyday experience and voice of the invisible majority, particularly young women, passes silently under the radar.” And while social media networking and user-generated content is expanding, “this media is only open to those who have access to these technologies, leaving many youth, especially young girls in at-risk or impoverished communities, falling hard into the digital divide.” Steiner says the project tackles the disparity by supplying equipment, education and support necessary to help young women become digital and blog journalists, using these new skills, says Steiner, “Our participants send a message that girls everywhere have a voice.”

The new bureau in Chicago has started with a summer journalism and digital media production workshop that is training twenty girls ages 15 to 20, from underserved Chicago communities, who will continue to meet during the school year. The girls started their work by writing short bios for the GGM website. Several talk about the violence in their neighborhoods in Chicago, which has seen an uptick in homicides this summer. Writes new journalist Armon: “When I was younger I use to think going to the mall and the local theatre were all a part of a teen’s daily life. What the media forgot to mention was the violence and sexual activity happening amongst teens.”

Bonus Link: Read several NewPublicHealth posts about CeaseFire, a violence prevention project begun in Chicago and now in place several other cities in the US and internationally.

Weigh In: What empowering activities for young women has your community developed?

Tags: AIDS, HIV, Sexual Health, Violence