Photography, film and digital storytelling – using creative media to prevent sorcery accusation-related violence

One type of violence experienced by women and men in Papua New Guinea is that linked to accusations of sorcery.  In 2015, the Papua New Guinea government launched the Sorcery and Witchcraft Accusation Related Violence National Action Plan (Sorcery National Action Plan) to address violence in these cases.  As part of the Sorcery National Action Plan, the Queensland University of Technology, in partnership with the Centre for Social and Creative Media at the University of Goroka, is researching and developing communication strategies to effect social change.

This project, funded by the Australian Government through Pacific Women, aims to reduce sorcery accusation-related violence using an arts-based approach that draws on the context and culture, not just of Papua New Guinea but across the Pacific.  Using photography, digital storytelling and film, the project develops communication strategies that meet the needs of different communities throughout Papua New Guinea. It builds on successful models of arts-based advocacy developed by the Centre for Social and Creative Media at the University of Goroka.  By ensuring that communication strategies are informed by local knowledge and context and by involving those who have been affected by sorcery accusation-related violence, these creative works have had a powerful impact on those who view them.

(L-R) Dr Jacqueline Kauli and Dr Verena Thomas of Queensland University of Technology during the Pacific Women PNG 2018 Annual Learning Workshop. Photo Credit: Pacific Women Support Unit.

Verena Thomas from Queensland University of Technology explains: ‘When it comes to issues around violence, whether its gender-based violence and sorcery accusation-related violence, we want to see that we can create safe spaces for people to share their experience, people that are vulnerable, people who are at risk or are survivors of violence. How can we create safe spaces to share their experiences so everyone can learn from them and we can look at addressing the issue? That’s where communication comes in, but in particular community media and using participatory media to discuss an issue, and being aware of the effects and the safe spaces that we need to create to ensure that people are safe when they’re talking about it.’

The project team has completed four digital storytelling workshops in Simbu, Goroka, Alotau and Bougainville with its community partners (Kup Women for Peace, Kafe Urban Settler’s Women Association, Kedu Seif Haus and the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation). Through these workshops, 41 digital stories about sorcery accusation-related violence, along with a photo exhibition, have been produced. The digital stories were launched under the initiative Yumi Sanap Strong (Let’s Stand Strong Together) in the provinces where they were produced. Pacific Women partners and organisations interested in using arts-based research to represent community stories attended a national forum at the Port Moresby National Museum and Art Gallery in November 2017.

One example of how the project works with partners is the showing of six digital stories at the Women Human Rights Defenders Forum in Siwai, Bougainville, in November 2017 as part of the 20 Days of Activism campaign.  Following the screening of the stories, the women discussed the impact of sorcery accusation-related violence in Bougainville.  The stories were later shown and discussed at the men’s forum in Chabai, hosted by the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation.

The digital stories continue to be shown to community groups in the four provinces, facilitated by the community-based organisations. The discussions from these screenings are informing the development of further materials, including a discussion guide which will be used alongside the digital stories to enhance the project’s effectiveness. To date, the Yumi Sanap Strong community screenings in the provinces have so far reached over 3000 people and the digital stories online have had over 5,000 video clicks between November’s launch and January 2018.

Recognising the need to ground the communications strategies in sound research, the Queensland University of Technology and Pacific Women brought together key institutions, organisations and local research partners engaged in research around sorcery-related accusations and violence.  The project will continue until June 2019, working with communities to produce creative, research-based and relevant communications strategies to challenge violence relating to sorcery accusations.

The digital stories can be found online at the Yumi Sanap Strong facebook page: