Using Video As A Tool To Empower Women And Communities At Large

Author: Wekoweu Tsuhah (Akole)

North East Network (NEN) Nagaland has been using Participatory Video (PV) as a tool to engage and mobilize communities for social transformation. PV is used for information and knowledge sharing, for promoting dialogue and debate, for fostering solidarity, for advocacy and to inspire actions, empower the community, with their participation in decision making at all levels.

Participatory video (PV) is a form of participatory media in which a group or community create their own film. The idea behind this is that making a video is easy and accessible, and is a great way of bringing people together to explore issues, voice concerns or simply to be creative and tell stories. In addition, PV products also contribute phenomenally to the existing knowledge bank, where especially youth from the community, researchers, NGOs, etc can refer to them as a valuable source of information. PV films have been used as educational materials by several groups/ NGOs in their trainings and workshops on sustainable food and farming systems, social and cultural rights, etc. In urban areas, these films were screened for the youths and young students and garnered a very positive response. It aroused their curiosity and promoted debate on various issues pertaining to traditional knowledge systems and current educational system, local food systems and modern food systems, etc.

NEN has trained grassroots women, who are farmers and weavers, to use PV to document community issues and concerns, to tell stories and weave their own perspectives. These trained women engage with their community members throughout the pre – production, production and post-production process– participation in discussions, identifying issues for documentation and getting the community participate in documenting. The PV team directs, films, and edits these films. The PV process has led to the recognition and acknowledgment of these film makers which in turn has built their confidence and leadership.

Below are two case studies of grassroots women film makers:

Wekulou Sekhamo, a Participatory Video (PV) Volunteer from Enhulumi Village

Ms. Wekulou Sekhamo a young and an energetic woman of 35 years and a PV member from Enhulumi Village, Chizami Block, Phek District, Nagaland,  started her first training in August 2014 at NEN. This shy but enthusiastic woman was nominated by the community women’s society to be trained at NEN. With much apprehension and hesitation, she joined the PV training, which we can say was the beginning of her journey and now when you ask her she is much grateful to the Women’s Society for giving her that push to learn something new. As a young woman, hailing from a small village, with no pioneers to look up to, made it even more difficult for her to break stereotypes around traditional roles of women.

“When the opportunity to get trained in camera and video shooting knocked my doors I consulted my father and brothers and thankfully they agreed for this. I wanted to do this but somehow their lack of approval would have demotivated me”, Wekulou shared candidly. Her journey began at NEN in 2014 and since then much has happened and changed. Initially when she started along with a couple of another young women like her from the same village, they had their own share of challenges and conditioning to deal with from within as well as from external forces and situations.

“When we first started out, we were teased and ridiculed. Due to this many a times we hesitated before going out into the field to shoot. It was very discouraging. We wanted to give our best but the people around us did not take our work seriously”, adds Wekulou.

With much difficulty they completed their first film – “The Promise Of Plum”. The film was screened in the community along with the PV team introducing their work. This film gave them their first recognition and appreciation in the community. The message of the film was also received very well and she shares this after observing an increase in the frequency of plum cultivation. She shares that NEN has provided her the platform not only to upgrade her skills but also has changed her approach as a woman. The recognition and respect they have earned through the mentoring and guidance of NEN is something she is ever grateful for and encourages other women to challenge themselves too.

Wekulou behind the lens, third from the left

Tshenyilo-u Chirhah, Participatory Video Trainee, and currently working as a Project Assistant with NEN Nagaland

“I grew up in an agriculture family which practices subsistence agriculture. I went to school in my village but could never get the opportunity to go to college due to financial constraints. After clearing my High School, I stayed back in my village to help my parents in farming and also weave textiles along with my mother. Many young people have alienated themselves from agriculture and traditional crafts such as textile weaving, and have left the village to pursue other livelihoods and aspirations. But I chose to continue the tradition of weaving textiles and also practicing sustainable biodiversity farming. I strongly believe my decision of keeping alive the skills and the knowledge of my community will inspire other young people especially women, and also I believe that my effort is contributing towards achieving sustainable development.

In September 2014, I was one of the four lucky persons from Nagaland who got the opportunity to attend a weeklong participatory video (PV) training in Tuensang district of Nagaland, organised by InsightShare, UK, and NGOs, North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), Meghalaya, and North East Network (NEN). After equipping myself with the video-documenting skills and understanding about the value of documenting the oral histories and experiences of community people, I came back to my village along with other co-participants and initiated a participatory video documentation project with the support of the organisers. Through the PV, I engaged myself with community members more closely – in collectively conceptualizing ideas, identifying issues for documentation, participating in the video production, post-production activities of mobilizing community members and organizing film screenings and discussions. Between October 2014–October 2015, 7 films on my community were produced – on traditional shampoo, folk music, revival of growing traditional cotton, jhum agriculture, bee keeping, terrace cultivation, and kitchen garden.  

The films we made were screened at different community locations which evoked positive response from both, the young and the old. Elders proactively came forward volunteering to share their knowledge and experience, and suggesting issues to be documented for the purpose of posterity and also for educating people from within and outside the community. I get very happy whenever people come forward with suggestions like these.

Things happened so quickly and before I realized my life changed. All the ordinary things that I never noticed earlier in my village became visible. I understood that there are other people in the world who have not experienced my kind of life or the experience of my parents’ or the farming methods that we use. So for me the film making magnified my perceptions in the most extraordinary manner that I never experienced before. Today I look at society differently and I have also learnt that there are things that we are good in or things that discriminate us. This awareness came with my association with NEN and the various workshops that I have experienced in this organization.

Our films were also screened at the Indigenous Terra Madre, an international event organized by the Slow Food International in Meghalaya, India in the month of November 2015. This event brought together thousands of people from all walks of life, from both within and outside India. This was the biggest eye-opener for me. Through our films, my community’s rich resources and concerns were portrayed which drew people’s attention at an international platform of this scale.  I was able to take the lead in visualizing the stories and voices of my community through this effort.

Tshenyilo-u Chirhah handling the camera

With the support of NEN, I have made films on women, seed saving, women’s livelihoods, and also shared my skills with other women members of my community. As a Project Assistant with NEN I am now a resource person to NEN’s programme on training grassroots women farmers as filmmakers. I have already facilitated video documentation training for 13 women farmers from 5 villages of Phek district.  The films that were produced and screened have encouraged the community to revive their traditional crop millets and revive their traditional music, amongst others. To me, this is the start of a new path of expressing community concerns and advocating our entitlements to the government which is not always attentive to rural livelihood and economic security. Most of Nagaland suffers from this non recognition where the farmers’ needs and rights are never taken into account. Because of lack of employment opportunities other than agriculture and increased need for cash has made many rural people, especially young people, to migrate to towns like Dimapur, Kohima and other cities for better work opportunities. I can also see the troubles that people go through when someone in their family faces ill health . We have to depend on city hospitals because of inadequate infrastructure, though we have a PHC. I think a film on this issue and also on traditional healing can be done to make people aware of their own wellbeing. 

After getting myself into the film making I got the opportunity to travel a lot. Getting an award* is the best part of my life.  I have never even dreamt about flying on a plane, but we flew to different places to receive our award. At first my parents were hesitant to send me out, assuming that it is dangerous for a girl to go out alone. But today they support me. I also got recognition from my community people for my work, and they include me in meetings and request me to document important community events.  This has made me more confident. Young girls also look up to me and I am very proud that I could inspire many young girls in my community.”

*Tshenyilo-u Chirhah has won Jai Chandiram Memorial 1st National Community Media Film Festival 2017 for the film ‘Millets – Securing Lives’ and Jai Chandiram Memorial 2nd National Community Media film festival 2019  for the film ‘Salt In My Village’

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Wekoweu Tsuhah (Akole) works as the State Director of North East Network (NEN) Nagaland. She has been working on issues of women rights, governance, natural resource management and sustainable livelihoods. She graduated from the Baptist College, Kohima, and has been working with NEN Nagaland since May 2004. For more information and interaction reach out to her at akole@northeastnetwork.org .

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