Linda Forsell is a photojournalist who for the past four years has spent her time bringing the everyday hardships and horrors women around the world face come to life. Her most recent project is know as 'Children Having Children' and shows the real lives of Guatemalan girls who have been forced into having children at ages where most of us are worrying about our next exam at school. These girls are abused, betrayed and castigated; by those they trust, those that turn their heads and by us. When we refuse to acknowledge the sexism that exists, when we deny that something is wrong with the attitudes of those who allow this, we fail each and everyone of them. Please, do your part and look at Linda's photographs, read her words, and tell yourself you will help change this. It is 2015, and we can not let this keep happening. We look back on our ancestors and ask how they could allow such atrocities to happen. Do not let your descendants do the same.
1. As a photojournalist, you visually represent a story. What story have you come across that has impacted you the most?
For me, the impact has always come in relation to the bigger picture. I specifically recall meeting a Zimbabwean woman in South Africa who had been raped nine times, twice in gang rapes, and who conceived a daughter as a result of the rape. She fled Zimbabwe because of the first gang rape and due to her ordeals she began to use heroin. This woman was physically unable to look anyone in their eyes, and even less into a camera, but she was completely determined to tell her story.
I remember walking out of that room thinking that had I experienced the same thing, I would have taken my own life. But still, the real blow and weight on my heart came when I put that in relation to the fact that in South Africa, almost 45% of all women experience rape in their lifetime. The systematic rate at which humans (both men and women) are abusing women is revolting. The situation for girls in Guatemala is of the same systematic character.
To this day, in 2015, there is no place in the world where women are the equals of men. This is one of the greatest crimes committed by humanity, as popularly cited, women are half the population.
2. I admire that you focus extensively on woman's issues, because sexism fills the world and yet people deny it. When did you know that discrimination was something you had to take a stand against through your photography?
Gender issues have interested me ever since I started out as a photographer in 2005. For various reasons the interest grew - I experienced discrimination myself and I was in an psychologically abusive relationship at one point - so when the chance arrived to work full time on violence against women in 2010, I was eager to deepen my engagement.
I then worked for two years on the project Cause of Death: Woman where I traveled to ten different countries documenting violence against women. During that time I learnt about the situation in Guatemala which interested me for various reasons.
First of all it is heartbreaking. Also, at the time I had been feeling a bit frustrated about how to visualise the issue of violence against women in a compelling way. It is most often an invisible problem, even physical violence is most of the time impossible to conceptualise. The situation in Guatemala offered an opportunity to depict the root of violence against women and girls, at the same time as highlighting the specific situation in the country itself. To see a girl, age 13, with a baby, is simply wrong, and it touches the hearts of most people. It is also hard to argue against the atrocity of the situation and almost impossible to find excuses to the violence or to blame the girls for it. By getting past these obstacles that often arise when talking about violence against women you can touch directly at the root, which is that women and especially girls are valued lower than men.
3. With your project, Children Having Children, what was it like being with these young girls and seeing their lives?
It is inspiring, interesting and frustrating at the same time. I have loved getting to know them, trying to find common interests, learning from them about their toils and hopefully teaching them something. Simultaneously it is frustrating because as an outsider it can be easy to see what they ought to do to find a way forward, but the obstacles can be almost insurmountable. There are cultural obstacle for them to return to school, financial of course, and psychological hurdles since most of them are more or less broken and need help. For example one girl who was raped on two occasions by a 53 year old man, has locked her pain up to the extent that I doubt that she would go to therapy even if she was offered the help.
4. I know society is certainly not set up to be supportive of these girls, so what kind of atrocities do they have to face every day?
They are stigmatised and blamed for what happened to them, they are expected to abandon all the hopes and dreams to take care of their child and they are expected to see their child as a blessing. This is the mantra of most churches, all children are blessings and you should thank God for them. As a result, they are robbed of their right to grief and sorrow for what has happened to them.
5. Personally, I find it so hard to understand how people can kick these girls out of school for being bad examples, but they also don't let them have any alternatives to the pregnancy either. For you, what was the hardest thing to try to understand?
This is of course one of the most difficult aspects, and it can only be understood by looking at the root of the problem, that girls and women are deemed less valuable than men, by themselves and others. As a result, what happened to them is considered their fault. All of this happens subconsciously of course, it is not something that anyone would admit to your face, but it is the base of gender inequality.
6. What impact do you want your photographs to have on the people that see them?
There is no one way that a problem like this can be solved. It is always the confluence and resonance of many different forces and steps.
I believe that people in and outside of Guatemala are on different levels to being able to grasp the issue and I think this is one of the strengths of the project, that it can reach out to you in different ways. Let’s say you never heard of the problem before and you see the show or read about the show, then it may open up a new door, make you think and be aware of your own behaviour, maybe you start talking to your nearest about what your learnt. On the other hand if you’re well-versed on women’s issues, the collaborations with organisations in the project may give you an idea or opportunity to start acting to help others outside your community.
In general it is about raising awareness, and make people start thinking, talking and then acting.
7. How can people help raise awareness and end the problems you document?
There are different ways. A number of local organisations are doing an amazing job trying to improve their situation, preventing the continuance of the situation by education and assisting in emergencies. These movement need all the support they can get in terms of people who can help them out but also money for health care, cars, educational events.
But the very first thing to do is to start with yourself and treat all women and girls as equals. Speaking of the subject of these girls specifically and equality in general is also important. An entire system and foundation has to change for this to be prevented in the future.
Thank you, Linda, for doing this interview with me and for the work you do- it's extremely important to every woman out there. I hope everyone who reads this comes away with more knowledge, and an even greater will to do something about it. No woman is less than a man, no girl should be pregnant at 11 and out of school, and no person should ever suffer because of their sex. That's the truth: we are all people above all else, and yet we are not always treated like it.