Changing Narratives of Sexuality
Our Changing Narratives of Sexuality theme came from the entry point of 'Body'. From rights over our own bodies, to choose when and with whom we have children and sexualities of our own choosing to the ways our bodies are represented in media and religion.
Our projects under this theme aim to go beyond a problem and victim focused approach to issues of sexuality to celebrate the positive dimensions of women's sexuality, and explore what it takes to bring about change that can enable women to enjoy rights to their own bodies, sexualities and pleasures.
Our activities around this theme over the last year includes:
Changing Representations of Women in Bangladesh
A middle-aged neighbour entered the room whilst the Pathways South Asia Team was watching TV with a group of women in a poor neighbourhood of Bangladesh. She asked if they could tell programme producers to show women in more non-traditional roles.
Photo: Pathways South Asia
Often the media is criticised for objectifying women and reinforcing stereotypes, but this research has shown that this envisioning of different ways of existence for women can provide them with hope and a promise of a different reality. The women continued to engage with the narratives on screen when they switched the television off. They adapted their fashions, incorporated the dialogue and the programmes made an indelible impression on them. All of the married respondents said they like serials depicting the tension, an emotional war in families, and even showing physical violence within families. To explore the reasons for watching these narratives and images a respondent in Bhasantek said
The TV provided women with new spaces in which to view the world, expanding their knowledge and helping them escape reality; the contributions this can make to their wellbeing and empowerment have been underestimated by development. Time and further research might show whether the engagement with television will lead to new ways of being or if it will simply reconfigure the existing parameters of womens lives.
Descriptions of some of the Projects
In April 2008, the Changing Narratives Theme members met at the Institute of Development Studies to plan and coordinate on the next stage of their research and writing up. We took the opportunity to interview them about their research and podcasts, produced by Charlie Sever, are available to download from the Changing Narratives Theme page on:
- Mulki Al-Sharmani talking about her Family Courts in Egypt project. In 2000 a new law which regulates how personal status cases are dealt with was brought in in Egypt. Mulki's project looks at how this is working in practice.
- Samia Huq talking about BRAC's project on religion and media. What effect has the recent resurgence of Islamism had on women in Bangladesh?
- Susie Jolly talking about her work on the Global Hub of the Pathways RPC. Earlier last year she interviewed sexual rights activists in Beijing and the donors who fund them.
- Charmaine Pereira talking about her case study of Anita Hogan. Nude pictures published in the press of Anita Hogan, a famous actress in Nigeria, caused a great deal of controversy and consternation. Charmaine asks why should it be perceived that women have a greater moral responsibility in matters of sexuality than men?
- Cecilia Sardenberg talking about issues of cosmetic surgery. Why should women in Brazil feel pressure to fit the dominant model of femininity?
Popular music is a powerful medium for reinforcing and dictating what is in vogue or considered the norm for society. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Awo Mana Asiedu, researchers from the West Africa Hub of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Research Programme Consortium (RPC), have been studying how women are portrayed in popular music.
Images from the Workshop
In June and July last year, two workshops took place at the University of Ghana in Accra to analyse and discuss representations of women within popular music. The Textual Analysis Workshop in June provided practical hands-on training in analysis of song texts and the Reflection Workshop with Popular Artistes in July brought together researchers, musicians, DJs, and radio presenters to reflect on the messages encoded in popular songs. Participants at that workshop were given the opportunity to brainstorm alternative ways that women could be presented.
For more information on the workshops and photographs see the Pathways West Africa Weblog.
As a follow up to the workshops, the team are planning a song competition which will take place during 2009, working with musicians, artistes and DJs to develop communication in this area and find more inspiring representations of women within song.
Popular culture has a way of reflecting popular consciousness but it also has a way of informing popular consciousness