For over twenty five years Phil Borges has lived with and documented indigenous and tribal cultures around the world. Through his work, he strives to create a heightened understanding of the issues faced by people in the developing world.
Photos and stories from the collection Women Empowered
Abay was born into a culture in which girls are circumcised before age 12.When it came time for her circumcision ceremony, Abay said, “No.” Her mother insisted: An uncircumcised woman would be ostracized and could never marry, Abay was told.When her mother’s demands became unbearable, she ran away to live with a sympathetic godfather. Eight years later, Abay returned to her village and began work as a station agent for CARE, supervising the opening of a primary school and a health clinic and the construction of a well. After five years, she finally convinced one of the women to let her film a circumcision ceremony. She showed the film to the male leaders. They had never seen a female circumcision and were horrified.Two weeks later, the male leaders called a special meeting and voted fifteen to two to end female circumcision in their village.
Adjoa is the youngest of four wives and spends most of her time in the field tending the grain and corn crops. The other wives share the household chores, but Adjoa prefers working communally on the farm with the other women in the village, instead of spending time alone in the kitchen over a hot smoky fire.Last year, CARE helped Adjoa form a thirty-member women’s savings and credit association. Having access to loans allowed the women to afford preventive health care items for their children, such as mosquito nets and medicine, that their husbands were hesitant to purchase. During their group meetings, the women also discussed family planning and women’s rights. They discovered that they had a more powerful voice collectively than as individuals. Gradually, they became less shy about speaking out at community meetings, and now the women contribute substantially to the previously all-male village civic meetings. As word of the success of the Bowku women’s group has spread, the women are being asked to help form women’s associations in neighboring villages as well.
Fahima, a teacher since 1985, was one of thousands of professional women who lost their jobs when the Taliban came to power in 1996. In defiance of the Taliban andat great risk to herself, Fahima opened a clandestine school for young girls. At one point, 130 girls were coming to her home each week to study math, science, and the local language, Pushto. When the girls were asked why they were going to Fahima’s house, they said she was their aunt. Although harassed by the religious police and threatened with beatings and worse, Fahima continued operating her school for girls until the fall of the Taliban in 2001.