The PhotoVoice Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recovery effort in areas affected by the Great East Japan Disaster. Through photos and “voices” (written messages), women affected by these disasters are able to document and share their experience with the 3.11 disasters from a diverse range of perspectives.
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The Great East Japan Disaster of 3.11
On March 3rd, 2011, a devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan, triggering a massive tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Through this unprecedented barrage of disasters, countless people lost their lives, belongings, and homes. Many people still continue to live while shouldering this fear, sadness, helplessness, and unbelievable pain. The effects of such catastrophes are far-reaching.
After the disasters, recent studies have also shown that existing trends of discrimination towards women have grown stronger, reflected in an increased disparity in wages and employment, a stark division of labor in nursing and childcare services, an increase in sexual violence, and continued under-representation in policy making. Disasters often exacerbate such predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and dis-empowered groups. However, it has been repeatedly shown that the perspective and involvement of women are indispensable to post-disaster recovery planning.
What We Do
Since June of 2011, PhotoVoice has worked with women affected by the disasters, conducting routine meetings with small groups from disaster-affected regions to share photographs and stories that capture their individual experiences.
As members in these meetings, women are invited to share their experiences with pain and loss, deriving meaning from their observations in a way that can be applied to problems in their region and society at large. These meetings provide a space to verbalize and share memories that were otherwise difficult to put into words. Through this exchange, participants foster mutual understanding as well as a means to support one another.
Members also devote time and effort to develop messages (“voices”) based on their discussions that they would like to share with their community, which are displayed with accompanying photographs at exhibitions and community forums. By capturing and displaying these PhotoVoice sets, we are able to identify and discuss community and societal problems, inspiring those who see and read them to think of more effective disaster prevention and recovery policies. Moreover, we are able to share the lived experience of women survivors and preserve a vital piece of the story of the disasters.
To resume daily life and work while carrying such feelings of disorder, anxiety, and grief, many feel they have to bottle these emotions to move forward. It is vital that we provide such people a space where they feel they can unload the burdens they carry. We at PhotoVoice are working to provide a space to for those affected by the 3.11 disasters to share, connect, and support one another on their road to recovery, while sparking discussion towards improved disaster policies and responses.
In an exhibition event in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture in January 2014, members of our Sendai group reflected on their first few meetings:
“With nerves and anticipation high, soon we found ourselves releasing all of our pent up tears, frustration, and laughter as we flipped through photo after photo.
We realized that it was okay to express our hardship with others.”