Seeing how it works

Rape culture and a climate where issues of safety and security are compromised characterize many campuses world-wide as we see in recent media coverage of campus violence in Canada, South Africa, the UK, the US, Australia and India.

How to give visibility to the specific challenges facing young women, especially those living on campus, is a challenge. The images in this exhibition draw on a participatory visual intervention at a university in South Africa, the Girls Leading Change project, involving young women, all first year Education students.

The fieldwork for Girls Leading Change addresses the following questions:

  1. How can participatory initiatives with young women-a group typically excluded from policy dialogue-inform practices, policies, programmes and services related to their own safety, security, and well-being at university?
  2. What methods could be used to explore with them their insider knowledge of sexual violence at university?
  3. How could the results be communicated to policy makers at the university in such a way that they would be engaged – and do something?

In the course of the fieldwork the young women created cellphilms (videos made with a cellphone), policy posters and action briefs, and engaged policy makers in dialogue.

This exhibition poses the broad question:

If researchers and other audiences see, literally, how the engagement process works in participatory research, how might this contribute to their understanding of its significance for effecting critical and transformative social research?

The 34 images in the exhibition are organized into 2 parts:

‘Seeing How It Works’ [Process]


Making cellphilms, Creating policy posters, Creating action briefs, and Dialogue with policy makers

‘Portraits of Change’ [Change & Transformation]


Picturing young women’s agency; Picturing political engagement, and Picturing changes

Taken as a whole, the images in this exhibition allow the viewer to see how visual and participatory methodologies can contribute to a transformative agenda for addressing sexual violence – wherever it takes place.


We are grateful to the young women who participated in this project, and who are taking the lead as “Girls Leading Change”:

Sonwabe April
Sondisiwe Goizo
Bongiwe Mhambi
Zikhono Tshiwulo
Asisipho Mntonga
Tokotso Mohlomi
Wondiswo Momozo
Happy Mthethwa
Elethu Ntsethe
Zethu Jiyana
Melissa Lufele
Bongiwe Moome
Zamahlubi Mabhengu
Lelethu Mlobeli

The Girls Leading Change project is a pilot study (funded by NMMU research theme funding) feeding into the Networks for Change and Well-being: Girl-led ‘From the Ground Up’ Policy-making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa project (funded by SSHRC & IDRC).

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