“I remember a nurse showing the results of HIV testing to the women in front of me, with absolutely no patient confidentiality,” said American photographer Jessica Scranton, talking about her experience photographing in a Congolese clinic during a phone interview.
She recalled the amount of positives was incredibly high, but it seemed to be no shocking news for the women standing in line.
“They were shrugging their shoulders as they received the results. It was just another burden that they had to add to their lives.”
In August 2007, Scranton spent a week between Bukavo, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nairobi, Kenya, documenting reproductive health rights on assignment for Columbia University’s RAISE initiative. Although the situation in Eastern Congo was relatively calm when Scranton visited the clinics and infrastructure where RAISE had established itself, the feeling of precariousness was as palpable as it was hard to capture in a photograph.
“These women live in conflict situations: many times they have been raped, they have little access to healthcare. Many of the problems and deaths would be preventable in a ‘normal situation,’” Scranton said. “Furthermore, photographing this issue in conflict situations around Africa is a challenge: you have to gain the women’s trust. Journalists tend to show women in a victim’s role, in a negative light…I’m not going to expose that.”
Just as empowerment, individuality, and choice are RAISE’s main tools to foster a healthy reproductive rights culture, so they are equally important to Scranton’s documentary photography work on the issue.
“As soon as I started shooting professionally in 2006, I ‘niched’ into women and reproductive rights issues. I’m a woman and I feel I can relate to them – it’s my body and their body. We connect,” she said. “I understand these women. I don’t see them as victims, but as authentic women who live in an incredibly hard situation… But it’s still important to humanize their story, to show the positive side. People are people, no matter where they are and how much they’re suffering, they still care for each other. ”
View Jessica Scranton’s exhibit, “Reproductive Health Rights” on SocialDocumentary.net.