(The Room for) A Story of One’s own

Pakorpa Susangho is a short participatory video in which ten widows from the small settlement of Kulbia in Ghana document and report land issues affecting them. It is a traditional practice in their communities that, following their husband´s death, widows lose the rights to the land they previously owned.

One of the ten women collaborating in the participatory process of filming their own videos, admitted that their issues ‘would only ever be whispered among themselves, overlooked or unheard, and would never be discussed openly’. It seems that the lack of space for discussing this issue is linked to the lack of room provided for certain stories. Although these stories deeply affect the community, they remain unknown because communities do not provide their members with the time and space in which to tell them. 

While listening to the voice of the participating women, I was recurrently reminded of the central idea in Virginia Woolf´s renowned literary work, A Room of One’s Own. In her novel, Woolf claims that every woman should have a right to a private room. At a time in which men where indisputable owners of both the public and private spheres, a woman that possessed a room of her own would be the keeper of her time and space, while she remained in her room. Undisturbed, she would be able to engage with her own writing, and possibly with the writing of her own story. 

The writing of her own story.

Participatory video is the methodology that could be the room that provides the time, space and tools to the Ghanian women at Pakorpa Susangho so that they can tell their own story. A platform that challenges the predominant narrative and enables them to explore and document issues that are affecting their community. In this case, an exploration of the impact of land corruption on these widowed women in the Upper East region in Ghana. 

A participatory project of these characteristics may take approximately 14 days to complete and could be organised in four different stages, as follows:

    • A workshop. The actual room of their own that would provide them with not only the skills and tools to tell their story but also with the time and space to plan their fieldwork and discuss their narrative.
    • The fieldwork. The video production undertaken by the participants where their own stories and those of their stakeholders are captured and later reviewed and edited with the wider community.
    • Post-production. As a participant-led process, video-editing of the footage captured during their fieldwork to produce their video. 
    • The screening and discussion events. A series of events for the chosen audience to view and discuss the rough-cut footage produced during the fieldwork. It may be addressed either to the open public or a selected audience depending on the aims and objectives of the project. A wider audience may represent more room to disseminate these stories, bringing in diverse perspectives that could unfold space for the resolution of conflict affecting this community. 
PV workshops to provide women with the skills and tools to tell their story.

Participatory video, an empowering methodology in which the participants own their videos and have full control of their content, is a way of allowing this community direct control over the representation of themselves and their lived experience around the topic of widow’s land rights. Moreover, this process has been shown to contribute towards achieving positive change by communicating with diverse audiences and stakeholders. An example for this could be the positive consequences of the community screening of Pakorpa Susangho, which created the room for relevant dialogues between community leaders and decision makers such as the Tindanas, responsible for allocating land to community members and resolving land disputes. A participatory process of these characteristics could ultimately foster change and solutions through horizontal communication and battle injustice issues affecting the lives of many communities. 

Implemented by InsightShare in partnership with Transparency International in 2016, Pakorpa Susangho (Widow’s Cry) was one of a series of works in the framework of the programme Land and Corruption in Africa funded by the German Federal-Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development with the support of the local partnering institutions Ghana Integrity Initiative and Widows and Orphans Movement. 

 

About the author 

Helena Velez Olabarria

I am a visual researcher, photographer and cultural producer with over 10 years’ experience in the field and a professional understanding of lens-based projects and visual narratives from the making to their public display. Visual exploration, of mine or other authors, is in a way a personal research that aims at giving deeper understanding of what moves society, what makes people connect and makes us needing to belong to somewhere, something or someone.

Currently, I am completing my second year of an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy at Goldsmiths University of London and research the different dimensions that affect and pursue a shift in the predominant narrative in the production, consumption and circulation in the Arts. 

https://www.hvo-projects.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/helenavelezolabarria/

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