Despite diminishing resistance inside our office towards equality between women and men (See: Confessions of a gender specialist), changing people’s mindsets is still a big part of our work. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight either.
We can talk and explain, convince and provide rational arguments and proof, but we also decided to harness the power of photography. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” (See how the discussion on Facebook took off after we shared a photo of women digging a ditch.)
We wanted to show real women and men working in non-traditional, unusual jobs that break stereotypes and inspire younger generation, and we also wanted to encourage young women to become professional photographers.
Together with colleagues from the United Nations Information Office in Uzbekistan, we decided to mark International Women’s Day by announcing a photo contest to feature women working in jobs that aren’t usually associated with women, or men working in jobs that aren’t usually associated with men.
We got a lot of women dancers, models, doctors, and teachers as well as men metalworkers, drivers, and engineers. Some were great photos, but not exactly what we were looking for.
Eventually, we had to extend the deadline for two weeks and unveil the secret prizes (touchpad, digital photo frame and hard disk) to solicit more entries. The jury deliberations were not easy either. There were high quality photos from professionals and there were not very good ones from amateurs. “Are you looking for a good photograph or are you looking for a non-traditional job image?” asked photographer-jury members. We wanted both.
Luckily, over 35 images from more than 10 photographers qualified and were presented in a two-week exhibition. The room was full of images of women drummers, jewelers, butchers, engineers, auto-mechanics, tram drivers, and those who are working in a non-traditional job.
Just by living their lives, the women featured in the photo exhibit are helping to break stereotypes about “female” or “male” jobs and show the wide array of professions for women in Uzbekistan.
Let me share the story of Bonu, one of only five or six women tram drivers in Tashkent. She’s from a conservative northern part of the country, Khorezm, where wearing trousers is considered unwomanly. She was a housewife, until, sadly, she was widowed at the age of 29 with two kids to take care of. Initially she worked as a waitress in her own town, but then left for Russia for two years in search of a better income.
But she missed her children so Bonu returned and moved to the capital where she was trained how to drive a tram and started working a year ago. Her shift runs from five in the morning to nine at night, with 15 minute breaks at each final station.
Bonu’s job is important for daily life of the busy capital – taking thousands of people from one part of the city to another, from home to work and back. She is young, ambitious and hard working, and her dream is to earn a first level driving category and to ensure good education for her sons.
We plan to continue our work promoting stereotype-free professions and wider education and job opportunities for women. After the photo exhibit in the UN House is closed, we’ll have an online version where we can continuously add more photos and stories, as well as a brochure.
The inspiring photos and stories help to show the significance of our research and policy advice on gender segregation in the labour market, or our work integrating issues of equality between women and men in the national programme on employment.
There are still many stereotypes about women and men that limit our personal and professional choices and influence our work. However, there are also many interesting real life stories out there that help to challenge these socially imposed limitations.
That is why changing minds and winning hearts is as critical as always, so that each girl and boy, woman and man, can fully exercise their capacities and realize their dreams.