What would you think of when you picture development, or aid, or even poverty? For many, that picture stretches across the lines of the photos below:
Generally speaking, these are assumptions picked up from the media, there is no denying that these norms do fall under the connotations of ‘in need’ ‘underdeveloped’, but I believe that there is more than meets the eye to this simplistic generalisation. I do not consider that you, as the reader have knowingly created these assumptions but merely had these views imposed upon you through the Media. For centuries we have seen globally, the use of the media as a tactic to enforce certain views, through propaganda, have we ever opened our eyes to question if what were seeing is really true? I as well as most of you, have been a victim of this.
Sustaining the victim narrative has been an ever increasing problem in the media, The SKIP1 campaign advertisement (2014) reinforces this idea. (To watch the advert go to: http://www.skip1.org)
Why is it that the development advert takes a Eurocentric view? Why is it that the blonde Caucasian woman is giving food to two black children when their mother is already cooking? Why are they placed physically beneath her? The points highlighted are fundamentally some of the flaws in the representation of development, and for me sum up ignorant the parties’ views on development, uneducated and contradictory. We seem to see in advertising, the reinforcement of certain stereotypes, African’s (especially women and children) are reflected as the most vulnerable and in need and the Westerners are there to help, with the victims thankful, happy and smiling. But who’s to say they’re in need? Or even, we (loosely speaking) can help? Does the way we represent development reflect more on us than them? Or is the western presentation of development just an advertising/ marketing ploy? Do we feel the need to present these ‘white saviours’ (Bennett 2009) in order to blind ourselves with a sense of heroism, without actually helping problems at all?
The ‘Rescue industry’ (Augustin 2007) highlights a fundamentalist feminist approach to the victim narrative. Augustin argues that the rescue industry often labels a victim status to people (mainly women and children) who have, themselves consciously made the decision to sell sex, and thus do not regard themselves as victims. Vice, a popular news source, recently came under scrutiny through their misinterpretation of the sex worker trade. The Documentary, ‘Prostitutes of God’ (VICE 2012) showed an insight into the lives of the Devadasi Women, but by trying to enlighten their audience, damaged their subjects.
The Devadasi women (SANGRAM 2013) claim that they are critically conscious of their own lives, selling sex for them is empowering and gives them more liberty than being an oppressed housewife. The VAMP members also provide security, education and income for 5,500 of their women workers, however these fundamental positive forces for development were not shown on the Vice documentary. Instead the VAMP members created they’re own documentary (VAMP 2010) informing views how they were upset with the way their lives were depicted in the film, claiming; the filmmakers laugh and mock their subjects and misinterpret their culture, they’re subjects never got to review the documentary, and one of the worst claims: the filmmakers publicly outed one of the subjects as being HIV positive. These accusations were not authorised and can be seen as a form of exploitation, this subject committed suicide to the damaging effect the contents had. When a subject takes their own life due to a documentary, we have to seriously reevaluate the way western media presents their subjects and the values and morals held by them. Was it more interesting for us as a viewer to know that a Devadasi woman was HIV positive, stuck in a cycle of prostitution and exploitation rather than seeing a strong woman empowering herself through a traditional act? VICE never warranted an apology.
The Devadasi Women
What really hits home for me is that I watched this Vice documentary and never questioned whether the information I was being presented was true. I never knew about how unjust and untrue this film and had maintained a certain view of the Devadasi women until being enlightened years later, and for that period of time, the prejudices and stereotypes imposed on the women I maintained. Think about how many people will only know one side of the story and how many people will today, still maintain these views. Development representations are hindering development especially for women, reinforcing stereotypes and misinterpreting culture is undermining development and progress, if the western world truly wants to make a difference, (not just exploiting victims for marketing/our own idleness) we have to reevaluate how we view and present development and try and question whether what were seeing is true.
Augstin, Laura, (2007), Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry: 1,
Bennett, Diane (2009), http://aidwatchers.com/2009/12/aid-watch-grinch-editon-are-we-mean-to-ask-that-ngo-ads-not-be-simplistic-and-wrong/ [21/11/15]
Harris, Sarah, VICE MEDIA, (2012- reupload) Prostitutes of God, VBS TV, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GFaN9-1iz0 [25/3/2013]
Sangram (2013), Save us from our saviors, http://saveusfromsaviours.net/?p=28 [24/11/15]
SKIP1, NGO, (2014), http://www.skip1.org [24/11/15]
Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), Prostitutes’ Collective Against Injustice, (2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16OGyssJTvo [24/11/15]
- Carter, Kevin, (1993), Vulture stalking a child, https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/vulture-stalking-a-child/
2. Hammond, Robin, Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds, http://www.panos.co.uk/stories/2-13-655-1054/Robin-Hammond/Zimbabwes-Blood-Diamonds/#