Nokia’s birthplace, Finland, was the second country in the world to give women the vote. It was the first country to simultaneously have a female president and prime minister.
It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that helping women worldwide reach their full potential through mobile technology is a key part of Nokia’s mission. This is one reason why last December we launched an international photo competition in conjunction with The Thomson Reuters Foundation. The brief was to showcase examples of women working to make a difference, whether through acts of leadership, courage and passion or by promoting opportunity, innovation and motherhood. There were over 500 amazing entries from dozens of countries but, alas, there can be only one winner. Happily, that winner, Egyptian photojournalist Roger Anis, is a master of his art, and his winning photo really is inspiring.
To find out more about the man himself, his winning photo and how mobile technology is helping ovecome the challenges women face in Egypt, the Thomson Reuters Foundation recently interviewed Roger. Here’s what he had to say along with more of his stunning photos.
As a photojournalist based in Egypt, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing women in your country?
Egypt is facing a real disaster with regards to women’s rights. We have a lot of challenges. One of the biggest is the persisting stereotype of women as having fewer rights, less freedom than men. Sexual harassment is happening all the time. A lot of the women I know – my family, friends and colleagues – fear walking down the street. It’s their right to walk safely, but when harassment happens, they cannot find the support they need. On the positive side, I think things are changing, though slowly. I see this across the media, and in the way women are beginning to behave. A lot of women are starting to speak out and find alternatives to facing these challenges.
Do you think photography and photojournalism can empower women? If so, how?
Photography can definitely empower women in so many ways. Photos can expose trends and show the achievements of women to their own communities and the world, as well as revealing the problems and hardships they face. Let me give you a real example. Two years ago, a male colleague of mine was driving down the road and had his camera with him. In front of him, he saw a girl crossing the street, and a group of small boys were following the girl, harassing her and trying to touch her inappropriately from behind. This was really shocking. He took a picture on the spot and distributed it to several international press agencies. This picture hit the mainstream news and people couldn’t stop talking about it. There were even demonstrations. In our globalized and super-connected world, pictures like this can have a huge impact.
Mobile phones are everywhere now. How are mobiles changing the field of photography?
I believe that mobiles are really changing the photography industry. In countries like Egypt, where situations can quickly get tense or even violent, having a small mobile device makes reporting much easier and safer. You can take it with you anywhere. I think the mobile phone makes it easier for me to reach people, to research and see what’s around me. Mobiles are really strengthening the idea of citizen journalism. In Egypt, a lot of the big stories in the media are the result of pictures or videos taken on a mobile phone.
Has this competition changed your work as a photojournalist?
After four years working for a daily newspaper in Egypt and taking photo after photo of clashes, conferences and demonstrations, I really wanted to do something different. I’d been meaning to work on a long-term project, and I always had women’s empowerment in mind, because when I looked around me, I saw women who had great stories to tell: empowering and inspiring stories, but problems as well. This competition brought new inspiration and energy into my work as a photojournalist. I feel completely refreshed.
Do you have a favourite photo?
I have lots of favourite photos, but my favourite is the one I took of a group of female students during a university demonstration at Ain Shams University in Cairo. The students were protesting the imprisonment of their friend and became aggressive toward the media. They banned photographers from taking pictures and covering the events. But as I had my Nokia phone with me, I was able to take high-quality pictures, and these pictures were published in one of the biggest newspapers in Egypt, Al Sharouk. So I was the only photographer who got pictures from the event, just because I had a mobile phone!
We hope this has given you not only an insight into the challenges women face in Egypt and the ways mobile technology is helping address them, but cause for optimism too. You just have to look at Roger’s photos to see how women are working harder to make a difference to their own lives and those of the next generations. Hopefully this competition and Roger’s fantastic work goes some way towards helping them.