Gender Voice Power

Exploring local insights on impacts of climate change and advocating for gender inclusive futures with women’s cooperatives in Zanzibar

Through participatory photography and storytelling, local women explore and reflect on their experiences and perspectives on climate change and the impact these might have had on their lives. The project explores local insights on climate change advocating for gender inclusive futures.


Zanzibar, Tanzania

Kate Watson, Kallina Brailsford

Kallina Brailsford, Tom Elkins

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
Zanzibar Climate Change Alliance (ZACCA)
Mwambao Coastal Community Network

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

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The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) delivers a research project which aims to build an evidence base for community insights and gendered perspectives on climate change. The project aims to utilise this evidence base to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of lived experiences in decision making for climate action.

The PhotoVoice component of this research uses participatory photography to generate in-depth qualitative insights into local women’s experiences of climate change, their areas of expertise for potential solutions and the barriers which hinder their participation. Exploring and documenting these areas will facilitate community led insights that can inform gendered climate change response programming as well as build community capacity for locally led research and action.

This project uses both a staff training and community engagement model to allow staff and community members to engage with participatory research as a means of communication and advocacy. This approach aims to increase longevity of use of these methods with the local communities, feeding into locally led initiatives and ongoing contributions from community members.

As a party to the Paris Agreement, the Republic of Tanzania has committed to conducting climate adaptation and capacity building approaches that are country-driven, gender-responsive, and participatory, and that consider vulnerable groups, communities, and ecosystems. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) delivers a research programme that seeks to understand how elevating and incorporating the voices and experiences of local people into Tanzania’s climate policy conversations can achieve these aims.

The economy of the island of Zanzibar is almost entirely agricultural and dependent on natural resources, such as the marine ecosystem. Seaweed farming, for example, is a main source of income and economic equality for women, as well as a driver of their improved social status over the last twenty-five years. Rising sea temperatures due to climate change are causing the seaweed crop to fail and threatening women’s economic and social independence.

The photographs taken by the women, and the accompanying stories they tell about their lives, explore their everyday experiences of climate impacts. These insights offer a local and gendered perspective to the dominant climate change conversation and will contribute to more inclusive and effective climate action planning.

The first week of engagement comprised of staff training with representatives from the local partner organisations involved in the project. The training covered principles of participatory photography as an action research tool and a meant to capture the experiences of the communities they work with.

Following the staff training, twelve women of various ages, livelihoods, and backgrounds who belonged to different women cooperatives joined an 9 day participatory photography workshop. The first four days were dedicated to group engagement including reflective photography training, visual dialogue activities and practical exercises to support participants to identify key areas to explore in their work and subsequent sessions were focused on developing each participants themes and included editing, selecting and captioning group activities. Participants were also mentored through one-to-one sessions to help them to continue to build skills and develop individual case-studies, as well as receive individualised guidance and support.

The project resulted in 73 participant generated captioned photographs, and a further 6 captioned photographs from staff training. Six selected women also produced case-studies which combined some of the photography with longer form text.

The participating women chose to have a public exhibition and celebration which took place at the very grand Old Dispensary building, on a beautiful second floor terrace overlooking the port and ocean. This was possible due to the very generous support from the French Cultural Centre in Zanzibar. Each participant selected two captioned images to be displayed in the exhibition and invited two family members to join the celebration. All of the women were given the opportunity to speak about their experience, and two women chose to share their thoughts and gratitude for the workshop.

The exhibition was organised around three themes the women had identified: Change, Weather, and Work/Activities. Specifically, the women used their photography and captioning to explore and investigate the impact of the weather and climate change on their lives and work, the importance of training and sustainable development, the need for diversification of income generating activities, and the importance of access to sustainable equipment and tools to help them build resilience in the face of climate impacts.

As part of the celebration of their completion of the workshop, the women received a group photo and were able to take home their own printed photographs and accompanying captions from the exhibition. They reported that in addition to increasing their confidence in sharing their experiences and opinions, the workshop granted them access to the diverse perspectives of their fellow participants and expanded their networks of support and information sharing.

‘As photography is part of my daily activities the framing will lead me to use photography very effectively in order to have more impact to the community I work with.’

‘[I enjoyed the] fruit market practical where we faced real challenges of photography, meeting crowded population with a lot of offensive/provocative environment e.g. trashed spots, uncovered foods, no proper dressings and still got skills to persuade them to allow their business photographed.’

‘I feel good about the PhotoVoice project as at the beginning I had no photography skills, yet I have been trained and understood as well as know the importance of photography.’

‘I plan to use it in my business affairs to advertise my small businesses’.

‘I really enjoyed this project bringing up a lot of things that we didn’t even know about being like a lot of people, supporting friendships.’

Header Image: © Mwana 2019 | PhotoVoice | IIED | ‘Gender Voice Power’ | Zanzibar

“We use these nets for fishing and also I use them to protect the seaweed when it is high tide. We can also use them to protect our vegetables from animals destroying them.”

Swahili: “Tunatumia neti hizi kwa kuvulia samaki, pia tunatumia kuhifadhi mwani wakati wa maji ya bamvua kubwa. Pia tunaweza kutumia kuhifadhi mboga mboga zetu zidi ya wanyama waharibifu.”

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