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Chinese village women as visual anthropologists: A participatory approach to reaching policymakers

  • Education


In developing countries, rural women are often neither seen nor heard, despite their extraordinary contribution to the labor force. Photo novella is an innovative methodology that puts cameras in the hands of rural women and other constituents who seldom have access to those who make decisions over their lives. As an educational tool, the practice of photo novella has three main goals: (1) to empower rural women to record and reflect their lives, especially health needs, from their own point of view; (2) to increase their collective knowledge about women's health status; and (3) to inform policymakers and the broader society about health and community issues that are of greatest concern to rural women. In this paper we analyze the third goal: the contributions and limitations of photo novella as a tool for informing policymakers. We conceptualize first the theoretical and practical underpinnings of photo novella. After tracing the relationships among empowerment education, feminist theory, documentary photography and policy, we describe photo novella within the broader context of the Ford Foundation-supported Yunnan Women's Health and Development Program and explain its application for influencing policy based on our experience carrying out photo novella in China.

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