Author’s Note: This is the first of a new column, where I’ll be interviewing amazing women in the St Andrews community about their endeavors, views on topical issues and anything else that might come up! I wanted to create this series, because I’m bored of feeling that growing sense of inadequacy and yes, even jealousy when confronted by other women doing great things. From an early age girls seem to be told to compete with one another, for a boy’s attention, society’s, whatever. You’re not skinny/smart/pretty enough to warrant something and someone else is. Social media has only exacerbated that feeling of competition. But, think how great it would be if we channeled all that pointless energy into helping one another, and embraced the fact that we’re all going to have different paths, not better or worse, just wonderfully different and our own.
Shine theory: Championing other women’s successes, rather than feeling threatened and competing for recognition. Anna Friedman, who coined the concept of shine theory, simply puts it- ‘I don’t shine if you don’t shine.’
As the first feature in our Shine Theory series, I interview Maddy Bazil, a photographer, student, and overall an individual I really admire. The interview is about her new project ‘She is Strong.’ – a charity working to raise money for sanitary products in Nyanga.
Can you tell me about how the ‘She is Strong.’ Campaign/ charity began?
MB: I’m living and working in South Africa this summer, and my flatmate here in Cape Town is pursuing an internship in public health. She was tasked by her supervisor to come up with a way to raise funds for a particular children’s shelter in the local township of Nyanga, Western Cape. She learned that there was a major shortage of funds for feminine hygiene products for the teenage girls living there, as well as for health education for all the adolescents at the shelter. The former is an enormous impediment for adolescent girls’ academic success here in South Africa because often, they are forced to miss school for a week every month due to lack of access to sanitary products. Many of the youth at this shelter have lost parents to AIDS and some are HIV positive themselves; sexual education is of the utmost importance in a country as afflicted by HIV/AIDS as South Africa.
When I and a couple other friends, who are also interested in feminist issues and human rights, heard about this fundraising need, we joined forces, and the three of us established the ‘She is Strong.’ project. We set to work on planning this initial fundraising event. We’ve found that our individual skill sets overlap in a really cohesive and constructive way – so the campaign, and this launch party, have been relatively seamless to get us off the ground thus far.
What’s the reception been like from the local community?
MB: The reception we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive! Our main push right now is a fundraising launch party, which we are throwing this week at a café/art space here in Cape Town, and the local community in our neighbourhood has been incredibly supportive. We’ve managed to get quite a few amazing local vendors and businesses and individuals involved in the event. We made a GoFundMe to cover venue rental and other incidental costs of the event. It reached 250 per cent of its goal in a week, and local businesses including an independent record store, a fine art gallery, an ethical soap company, a local winery, and others have offered up their support in the form of raffle prizes. A coffee shop down the road from us is donating a generous quantity of their baked goods to the event, a friend at a craft brewery is sorting us out with a keg, and another friend is offering up his DJ skills for the party. We’ve been consistently blown away by the generosity of the local community here, and its willingness to get creative in the name of supporting grassroots philanthropy.
Having access to sanitary products is even an issue in the UK. The BBC recently published an article on girls staying home from school in Leeds, because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. Will you continue the charity back in St Andrews?
MB: Yes, absolutely. As of right now, She is Strong. is an independent charitable project working in conjunction with existing organisations, but in the not-so-distant future, we aim to get registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO) ourselves, which will really enable us to expand our impact. In the meantime we plan to continue partnering with like minded groups in South Africa, the US (where my teammates are based), and the UK to raise awareness and money for gender-based issues.
The uni trialed a period of free sanitary products, do you think they should be made free?
MB: Yes, they should be free! It’s offensive and damaging that feminine hygiene products are so often regarded as ‘luxury’ items when in fact they are a necessity and a basic right.
The launch event will feature some of your photography. What is photography for you?
MB: Yes, I’m exhibiting some of my photos and auctioning/raffling some prints as part of the fundraiser. Photography for me serves as a framework for the way in which I interact with the world at large. Ultimately, it’s a narrative vehicle. I’m really excited to be digging my heels into documentary photography, even more so recently, and to continue to use my passion for making pictures as a means of honest storytelling and social activism.
Do you have any rituals before you go out for a day of shooting?
MB: Whether it’s a Lightbox event, a day of solo shooting, a freelance gig, or anything in between, I always can’t help but triple-check to make sure I have literally anything I might ever possibly need – it’s backup batteries and SD cards galore. And coffee. A lot of coffee.
Could you name a woman who you admire, that has received recognition?
MB: Serena Williams. The way she combats racism and sexism with unflagging grace and strength is so admirable, and winning the Australian Open whilst pregnant? Unreal.
Name a woman who you would like to ‘shine’ a light on.
MB: Photojournalist Lynsey Addario – she is quite famous in the photography world, but odds are you have seen one of her images on the front of the New York Times and never knew it was hers. She has been a woman in a man’s world for decades, kicking ass and taking powerful photos and refusing to sacrifice her femininity and individualism in the face of what is sadly still a very male-dominated profession.
Anything readers can do to help contribute to the She is Strong. campaign?
MB: We are continuing to collect donations that go directly to our partner shelter Emasithandane Children’s Home. You can read more and donate here.
People can also ‘like’ our Facebook page to get updates on news, events, and action plans in future!
I wish Maddy and the rest of the ‘She is Strong’ team all the luck for their launch this week. Make sure to check out their social media pages, Lynsey Addario and contribute to this incredibly worthwhile cause in any way you can.
Keep shining ladies! Tiffany