UPDATE: Faith has now extended her campaign to include the advertising company that was praised and awarded for the campaign.
Summer School at The Museum of Impossible Forms
MeR was invited to Finland by the Museum of Impossible Forms and the Children’s Library Project to attend their New Narraives Summer School. The purpose of which was to gather together researchers, pedagogs, activist and cultural workers concerned with the production of children’s literature and culture and who see the importance of shaping a discourse around decoloniality, antiracism amongst other matters.
Over the next few posts we will attempt to share with you a selection of the eloquent and challenging voices that presented during the five day all hands on deck course that left much food for thought and set fire to the tip of an iceberg.
What it Really Means to Protect Children
An inspiring lecture was given by Zimbabwean activist Faith Mkwesha, the Director of the NGO SahWira Africa International. She is also a Consultant on Gender and Development in Africa and a researcher and a lecturer currently based at Åbo Akademi. Faith shared her jaw dropping story of how after observing an offensive fundraising campaign for teenage/ young girl pregnancy awareness in Africa by one of Finlands largest development agencies, Plan Finland, she embarked on a counter campaign to highlight several of it’s gross oversights guided by morals learnt from African fables and myths told to her by her grandmother as a child.
There is plenty of media coverage of her campaign (See links below) but in short she drove, together with SahWira Africa International, the hashtag campaign #ProtectBlackGirlsToo. The purpose of which was to raise awareness for the exploitative nature of Plan Finlands campaign that used African girls bodies in a manner that derided them and did little to protect them.
Plan Finland employed a well know fashion designer, Paola Suhonen, to create a line of maternity wear to be worn by young pregnant girls in Zambia for a shoot aimed to mimic a mainstream fashion shoot. The final product was seductive images of well dressed pregnant girls accompanied by the tagline ” Maternity Wear for a 12 Year Old” donate X amount of money to prevent this from happening. The campaign was extensive, present on all off and online media channels, included an exhibition of the designer garments and even won prizes for it’s creativity from the Art Directors Club of Europe.
Faith was initially shocked at how the imagery eroticised and commodified the photographed child and seeked an initial audience with Plan Finland. After being rejected and taking a closer look at production process behind the campaign, Faith estimated “that they thought they where better ” (than the community they had portrayed), displaying behaviour akin to the concept of the “white saviour complex”. For this reason, she explained, they deserved to be taught a lesson, and as one of the myths she paralleled her reasoning with stated,
“we where going to be the snakes”
that woke them up out of their self satisfied state of entitlement.
The result was a tireless campaign protesting against a violation of children’s rights that later obtained the interest and involvement of the Zambian government. The initial outcome lead to an editing of the advertisement but with no apology or explanation. Faith later learnt that the prize money received by Plan Finland for the campaign was not channeled back to the community, the models had not been paid and the designer clothes had been taken back to Finland for the related exhibition. Despite editing the advertisement, all of this and the absence of an apology from Plan Finland indicated the difficulty they where having understanding the #ProtectBlackgGirlsToo message. As the screenshots below show it was about readdressing power retaliations and as one commentator asks :
“Would such a campaign have run if it was a Finnish child and others had made money from it? “
In a world where the the narrative of Europe and it’s ideologies dominate those from Africa and other parts of the world, participating in “development” work from a Eurocentric perspective may seem a means to making amends but ultimately it does little to alter power dynamic between the “haves” and “have nots”. In fact it is dangerous because it has the continued affect of crippling societies not only materially but more significantly mentally. If there is any area in desperate need of a new narrative, it is within the area of “outreach and development” work from the West toward the South. In further discussions on this subject, Faith mentioned the concept of “Reparations” as a more affective means of addressing the socio-economic imbalances caused by the consequences of history .
Despite being asked to cease her protest after edits had been made by Plan Finland, Faith drew on yet another metaphorical fable from her upbringing and that was to “sit on her eggs until they hatch”. And hatch they did on June the 20th, where Plan Finland, apologised for offence caused by aspects of the campaign, conceded to not receiving any further rewards for it as well as agreed to consulting organisations to ensure their message in future are sensitive to the ramifications of colonialism , racism and sexism.