This Drum Beat is one of a series of commentary and analysis pieces. Elizabeth Wickett, documentary filmmaker and sociologist consultant for development projects, examines the use of video as a tool for planning and implementing rural development projects. What follows is her perspective - NOT that of the Partners collectively or individually.
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Video for Development Communication
Video is an essential tool for planners in agricultural innovation or infrastructure projects such as water and sanitation. Video has an important mandate: to capture voices and communicate their ideas to planners, especially women's voices in societies in which social interaction is bifurcated along gender lines.
Three projects in which I was involved - two in Egypt and one in Pakistan - illustrate how video transformed top-down initiatives into collaborative, grassroots projects, succeeded in devolving responsibility for success to communities (in two cases particularly the success of women in the communities), directed investment to intended beneficiaries, and motivated communities to participate fully in their development.
In the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1993-1994, GTZ with the Public Health Engineering Dept. introduced a community-based project to install tubewells and encourage the introduction of household latrines. But women, the main managers and users of water, were excluded from village management and decision-making bodies like the council of male elders or "jirga" since no man, foreigner or Pashtun, was permitted to meet with them.
The aim of the 'Woman to Woman Video' project was to empower women to articulate their views across the physical boundaries of the purdah walls, discuss what water and sanitation infrastructure could be afforded, and participate in choosing the best water supply option for their households. A Super VHS Professional camera was used for filming and linked to a portable, car-battery- powered 10" monitor for playback. (At that time, most villages had intermittent or no electricity supplies.) Sequences were composed in the camera and in this way, editing could be avoided.
We filmed water taps, drains and latrines, analysing the gender-ordered use of space and access to rooms within households. It was vital to women that the water source be placed close to the latrine in order to wash in 'flowing water' but if a well were the source of water, that could be disastrous since faecal coliforms could easily pollute the water supply. The only safe water supply option, after installation of a latrine, was a household connection pumped from a tubewell. The problem was to convince communities to pay a monthly household charge.
We discovered that neither sex should be able to be observed by the other coming or going to a latrine and women could not share a "pour flush" latrine. In agricultural communities at that time, pour-flush latrines were still a prestigious innovation. Most houses had none and 'demonstration' latrines had been placed in male guesthouses for their use only. Moreover, soap was never used in the households. Ash and sand were used for washing, not a luxury like soap. One woman, after kneading cow dung (a hygiene risk) for the video, was washing her hands in water when suddenly a soap cake was thrust into the frame. The 'hand of God' had provided soap for the 'foreigner's video' and everyone laughed.
What did we learn? First, that older women would agree to be filmed by women. Second, that women were the designers, implementers and overseers of construction, not male 'engineers'. Third, that small mudbrick huts would adequately house 'plush' latrines and women could build them in their compound 'for free', a realisation that created a huge demand for latrines. Fourth, that women farmers became motivated to build latrines on discovering they could produce safe agricultural compost, a valuable commodity, after eight months. And last, that women did enjoy power and could exert pressure on men to invest money in household innovations. An image of confident mature women emerged in the video that could not be denigrated by outsiders. 'Woman to Woman Video' effectively gave women a sanctioned voice in water and sanitation planning.
Video was also used in Egypt to motivate farmers and householders to implement change in the 'Rodent Control Project' (GTZ/ Min of Ag 1988-1990), that aimed to combat household rat infestation, widespread in rural areas. The flagrant use of poisons within households had caused death to animals and, in some cases, families so the idea of using research video to bolster the project was to survey current rat-catching practices, experiment with a live trap, and then monitor the success of the trap in ridding houses of rats.
Mature women were identified in three regions and asked if they would act as innovators. A team of women agricultural engineers would return to the field later to film their houses and experiences. This created a pre-eminent role for these women through the video. They were able to acquire experience with traps that permitted them to comment authoritatively on their effectiveness, and talk convincingly about the disastrous experiences of using lethal poisons such as strychnine in their houses. This was a lively change from the contrived developmental messages broadcast on TV by men in white coats.
During the filming, rural women in Egypt professed disdain for urban wisdom and the edicts of bureaucrats. Watching the completed video, these rural women seemed more persuaded by women like themselves, rural women acting as experts, communicating their knowledge to others. And that was the major lesson: the selection of "star" performers from amongst the target population, in this case, mature women from the rural community, not local elites, were the most effective communicators to their own peer group. They could raise consciousness and support for technological innovation by teaching the lessons they had learnt, in the context of their own rural environment.
The third project, the 'Integrated Soil and Water Improvement Project' (CIDA/ Min of Ag/ Min of Irrigation, 1991-1992) used video to persuade male farmers to allow soil improvements to be done on their land. Some communities had refused trials on their fields, and the management wanted to know why.
Informal interviews with 'beneficiaries' revealed scepticism about the way the project was being implemented but also complete ignorance about the aims of the project. The video revealed technical problems, discreetly, to government officials within the project office. When shown to a senior official in Cairo, the video prompted him to instigate immediate corrective action. No consultants report would have triggered this swift response.
Filming farmers in their fields gave credence and voice to farmers' views and brought them into the sphere of the project. After finally being invited to visit the project, one farmer blurted out, "Well, if you had just told us about this at the beginning, of course, we would have agreed!" In my view, for agricultural projects like these to succeed, farmers must be the interlocutors and prime movers in critiquing processes and understanding the implications of change; otherwise, there will be no commitment to innovation.
So four reasons why video is essential in planning and implementing development projects:
(1) 'Research' video uses a processual approach. Video allows planners and engineers to see problems 'in situ' since they can 'enter' houses and analyse problems without ever leaving their chairs. It also gives planners and implementers a chance to canvass the views of prospective beneficiaries after the project has started, and monitor progress. No report could be this dynamic, so visually engaging nor so communicative.
(2) In rural areas, many innovations are governed by cultural norms. Often women manage these domains yet have little opportunity to contribute to discussions on design. Strong, mature women will influence public opinion though most have not had the luxury of education and amongst non-literate, rural communities, the art of rhetoric is highly respected. Women and men generally respond to interviews well, speaking passionately about an innovation or a problem they have solved. Knowledge of rural environments, and the issues that affect them, is rare amongst urban elites. Video is a window into those worlds, and an invaluable aid to intercommunication of problems and solutions. This fact was borne out when Cairean women reacted to interviews with rural women entrepreneurs in Upper Egypt (UNICEF, 1990-1992) saying: "Could these be "the same oppressed and sequestered women of Upper Egypt we have always heard about?"
(3) Video is a transformative medium that can actually change the context for technological innovation, making the inaccessible, 'accessible'. In Pakistan (see above), women were suddenly able to install latrines and men were persuaded by women to pay for piped water supply, two achievements with major impact on the quality of life.
(4) Video, like television, can create mass appeal. For projects attempting to change traditional infrastructure or agricultural practices across a large swathe of the countryside, mass media can inform and persuade. Persuading TV mentors to accept developmental video for television is no easy task, however. When the 'rat' video was first screened, the ministry official in charge complained contemptuously that 'village women' were speaking 'the colloquial language' in the video, and thus, it could not be broadcast. Only after public lobbying for broadcast of the film's message was it televised. It then ran for two years.
Video is an essential tool for community participation in development. It gives a venue for the voices of communities involved to interact with development planners, a platform to highlight indigenous successes in solving problems, and often, it provides access to "hidden" strategies both inside communities and inside implementing development organisations. Nowadays, most projects try to spur private investors and prompt contributions from the communities themselves. To create the motivation to invest is the consummate challenge for development practitioners. It is my view that video, not words, may be the best way to create that incentive.
Documentary Filmmaker & Consultant Sociologist
Please participate in a Pulse Poll on this same theme -
To increase community participation, a budget line for "research video" (digital camera + monitor) should be included in all development projects, for staff briefings, community broadcast and as a substitute for monthly reports.
Do you agree or disagree?
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